Donald J. Mabry
Professor of History
Mississippi State University
The Historical Text Archive
For Paula Crockett Mabry
The material in this book comes from my teaching Latin American
history over many years. It does not pretend to be a textbook, although
it could form the basis of one. It is more than an outline but much is
omitted. This little book contains notes and commentary on important
topics. It reflects my interpretation of Latin America in the colonial
period. My focus is political and economic; I am more comfortable with
such topics. Such topics as art, drama, and music are not mentioned.
My expertise does not extend to these very worthwhile subjects. Some
chapters are more complete than others because I taught more about
them. In a number of instances, I have used lists to make it easier to
spot important points. Readers should find that the book covers the
essentials but that they might want to read articles and other books to
find out more.
Colonial Latin America, which lasted for about 300 years for
most of the region, was extraordinarily complex and rich in texture.
There are enormous differences between Mexico, on the one hand, and
Brazil, on the other. The term “Latin America” is not only shorthand but
also a bit of a misnomer, for much of it was not Latin. It was Indian or
mestizo or African, often with little more than a veneer of Iberian
culture. The degree to which it was any of these are Spanish,
Portuguese, African, Indian, or some combination thereof varies
according to place and time.
We have trouble deciding what to call other humans. Some
terms are inaccurate; some are invented to satisfy the politics of the day.
Some are acceptable in one era and unacceptable in another. In modern
parlance, the earlier immigrants are often called "Native Americans," a
term as inaccurate as the term "Indian" or indio as the Iberians called
them. They immigrated just like everyone else but not all at the same
time. Nor have we wanted to see the coming of the Europeans and
Africans to the Western Hemisphere as just another episode in the
many thousand years of its immigration history. One is at a loss to
decide what terminology would be accurate and inoffensive. Equally
serious, is that most people, even scholars, ignore the DNA evidence
and the reasonable conclusions that are drawn from it. We do not want
to think of all human beings as cousins, which they are, because it forces
us to reconsider all kinds of cherished beliefs. We prefer to be
inaccurate because it is easier and feels better. Similarly, we refer to
some people as Spaniards when, in 1500, there was no Spain. Some
Latin Americans today point out that it is politically incorrect for citizens
of the United States to expropriate the name “American” for
themselves. They see it as sheer arrogance, which it is. On the other
hand, we see the Mexican people called Aztecs when, in fact, only a
fraction were in 1519; that they are called thusly is imperialism on the
part of those who rule Mexico. We do not have to look very hard in
this part of the world to find other examples.
For convenience sake, I use conventional terminology, which is,
of course, European. The European immigrants engaged in biological
war against the earlier immigrants, the Indians, but not intentionally.
What happened illustrates the devastating effects of biological warfare.
That they did not understand the germ diseases and how they spread
made the pandemics worse. Although we do understand such things, it
remains to be seen how well we would be able to cope. After all, the
movements of peoples in the modern world, crossing oceans in a matter
of hours, bodes ill for the containment of infectious disease.
This little book should inform the reader of the basic story of
colonial Latin America; it is my hope that it will incite interest in Latin
America and cause people to read more thoroughly on the subject. The
bibliography gives a starting point into the excellent historical writings on
Because the late Robert J. Shafer, a consummate professional
and friend, taught me so well, I was able to put this book together.
Much of what I have written I learned from him. Mississippi State
University afforded me a sabbatical in the Fall of 2001 during which
period I was able to devote time to this project. Because my wife,
Paula Crockett Mabry, is so supportive of me, I have been able to
devote time to this project.
Preface ............................................................................................. xi
1. The Early Immigrants..............................................................1
2. European Backgrounds........................................................16
3. The Conquest ......................................................................35
4. The Spanish Colonial System................................................73
5. Society and Culture............................................................119
6. Colonial Brazil ...................................................................151
7. Late Colonial Change.........................................................162
8. Independence ....................................................................183
Select Bibliography ........................................................................220
The Early Immigrants
The history of the Western Hemisphere is a history of immigration.
Everyone, as far as we can know, came from somewhere else. There
are no native Americans. Among the American Indians (Amerinds),
different groups went from Asia to the Western Hemisphere at different
times, often centuries apart. And they continued to migrate, for few
stayed on the eastern end of the Bering Straits. Throughout the
centuries, they migrated and then migrated again. We know that
because there are variations in physical types. Height, color, and hair,
among other factors, varied a great deal. Blood type evidence supports
the theory that they crossed a Bering Straits land bridge and supports
their common origins. But there is also abundant evidence that people
were in different places at different times. The Apache eventually
invaded the territory occupied by the Zuni, for example; the Zuni
resented this and used pejorative terms for these immigrant marauders.
Iroquois-speaking nations were found in present-day New York and
Canada but also in North Carolina, many hundreds of miles distant.
Amerinds acted much like the Africans, Asians, and Europeans did;
they conquered each other.
Humans appear to be migratory creatures. First appearing in
Africa, according to the best scientific evidence, different groups left
Africa and settled in Europe and Asia and, eventually, in the New
World. Science and some religions tell us that all human beings are
cousins, that they all have at least one common grandparent. It is only
egotism or ignorance or both that causes humans and their progeny to
see themselves as unique or different. But they did and do.
This belief in separateness, in difference, explains much of
human behavior such as Africans enslaving Africans, most wars,
Chinese arrogance towards Europeans in the 15th century, nationalism,
the European treatment of Amerinds, and so forth. Amerinds were
beastly to each other, contrary to the Rousseau myth of the noble
savage. They were people and they acted the way other people did.
This book is concerned, however, with a limited group of
immigrants, the Amerinds and the Iberian Europeans. That is not to say
that the small numbers of others who settled in the geographical region
we call Latin America were not important. African Spaniards and
African Portuguese played a role, albeit small. Other Europeans came
to Latin America. It is not possible to discuss them all.
The Clash of Cultures
For 30,000 years before the Europeans came, people had been
coming to the Western Hemisphere, taking what they wanted and
having it taken from them in return. They negotiated to get what they
wanted and fought for it or both. They were kind and cruel to each
other. Some of them raped and pillaged and murdered. They moved
around spreading from the eastern shores of the Bering Straits
southwards to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America. They bore
children and their children bore children who bore children. Eventually
some of these children left the ancestral area and became "different
people," forgetting or not knowing that they were cousins to their rivals.
For unknown reasons, some remained migratory, some farmed to
supplement the food supply, and some built significant civilizations which
had large buildings, complex social systems, and the pattern of imposing
their will on their neighbors. In short, they were people acting as people
A new wave of migrants, Europeans, started coming in the late
15th century; in many ways, this migration was part and partial of
Western Hemisphere history. They did what the earlier immigrants had
done. They took things. Fought. Fornicated. Settled. They imposed
their food, ideas, clothing, political practices, and such on others. That's
what the Toltec and the Aztec and Inca civilizations had done.
The Europeans did have the advantage of having millions of
allies to help them in their conquest. People tend to ignore these allies,
microbes, even though they were the major force in the conquest.
Disease is not heroic.
The European conquest, however, changed the world. New
ideas and new things came about. Wealth was transported from colonial
Latin America to finance all kinds of things. Europe entered into a
commercial revolution and, eventually, into an industrial revolution. In
the Western Hemisphere, almost all the people were brought under
control of central authorities. The process went quickly in some areas
and slowly in others but it occurred. European (or Western) ways
The first immigrants were probably big game hunters in search
of food. From archeological evidence it is clear that they were in
Southern Chile by 7,000 BC. After they started entering the New
World, small game hunters and seed gatherers began going to the New
World between 15,000 and 2,500 BC. Around 7,000 BC,
environmental conditions began to favor small game hunters. These
changes in the climate meant the demise of much of the big game. Some
grasslands started to become deserts.
Plant food is the strategic element in the chain of animal life.
Around 6,000 BC, one begins to see the domestication of plants. First
full-fledged farmers appeared around 1,500 BC. This meant that it was
possible to develop more permanent structures because they did not
move. It also meant a more complex social stratification in societies.
New World agriculture developed independently of the Old
World. By 1,400 BC, cultivation was an integral part of Mesoamerican
existence. Cultivators were completely sedentary. They used the stone
ax and the wooden digging stick (coa). Slash and burn farming was
used as a means of clearing land. They traded textiles and pottery. By
900 BC, the Mesoamerican diet probably achieved standardization,
consisting of corn, beans, squash, chili pepper, small dog, salt, and
pulque (3-5% alcohol).
Around 900 BC egalitarian life of the of the simple farming
community began to become more complex. Farmers produced enough
food to allow for specialization of function.
They produced pottery for export. There was a lively trade in the
import and export of shells, jade, and turquoise. Burial remains indicate
differentiation into social classes. Priests begin to play the dominate role
in society. One sign of this was the beginning of large-scale construction
for religious purposes.
Humans began to harness nature creating irrigation works,
dams, dikes, and canals. Temple centers come into being. Some were
mere cathedral towns. There were some real cities, such as
Teotihuacán, which contained somewhere between 50,000 and 100,00
people. To sustain a city of that size, they had to rely upon something
besides slash and burn agriculture and the two-field system so they used
terracing, humid bottom lands, irrigation, and chinampas (floating
There were many Amerinds in Latin America and they had an
effect on the Europeans and Africans who came. The ways in which
they lived helped define Latin American culture. How many Amerinds
were there? We do not know. Scholars such as Cooke and Borah
estimated that there might have been as many as 30 million in Mexico
and Guatemala. Maybe there were 7 million in the Andes and a few
million scattered elsewhere. There were about one million in the
present-day United States and Canada.
For the higher cultures, there were oligarchic societies and
rigidity in their social structures. Few people owned much. They
believed in complex theologies about which we know too little. The
higher cultures engaged in warfare, as did some of the other cultures.
Human egotism, the fundamental cause of war, existed in all groups.
The Aztec and Inca liked to fight.
They had ability. The ability of the Amerinds played a role in the
way the Spanish thought of them. Ability was often what they were
allowed to do. The Spanish argued for 300 years about the Amerinds.
To us, it is clear that the intellectual life of the higher cultures was
complex and sophisticated. They knew quite a bit about mathematics
and astronomy. Astronomical cycles were used as the basis for
ceremonies in Mexico. They had no writing but they were getting close
(especially among the Maya who used ideograms, pictures). We do not
why they did not have writing. There was quite a lot of intellectual
development. The Incas had no writing by used a memory device, the
quipu. Nevertheless, there was very little in the higher cultures of the
Amerinds that could compete with the Europeans.
Their technology as not as good as that of the Europeans.
Although they constructed rather large edifices, such as pyramids,
canals in some places, and terraced lands, they did not have the wheel.
The terrain of Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia, and Peru were not favorable
to its development. They also did not have draft animals. The llama and
its cousins would only carry loads of about 100 pounds, not much use
for hauling freight. Amerinds built massive structures in some places.
There were very energetic, well-organized groups in some areas. There
was lots of artisanry in the homes. There were specialists in towns.
Some worked to sell their products retail; some worked for the state,
both the civil and religious authorities.
One difference was between those who depended upon corn
and those who depended upon casava (Brazil) but in the Andean
highlands, they grew and ate the white potato. Mexicans were corn
eaters but they used beans as well. In America, there was not the
variety of domesticated animals such as the Europeans had. Mexico
did have turkeys and small dogs to eat. Other Amerind cultures did not
have dogs to eat. These cultures had food production and preparation
well organized and had sufficient nutrients. The Indians had vegetables
such as corn, potatoes, chocolate, chiles, beans, and pineapple. In the
post-Conquest period, the common people could not afford stock so
they did not eat them although the Europeans had brought them into the
Amerinds had some illnesses but none of the common European
ones such as typhus and smallpox or the African ones such as mumps.
European diseases killed much of the population.
There was lots of discrimination as well as lots of miscegenation
before the Europeans came; there was lots afterwards.
The Spanish sought sedentary Indians accustomed to working
under direction. There were many more people living in Latin America
than in what became the United States. The sheer number of people in
some places was consequential. The high culture areas occupied only
one half of the land the Spanish and Portuguese conquered. Most
places one might go, one would not encounter Indians, especially settled
Indians. It is obvious that the Maya, Aztec, and Inca had lived in a
settled area for quite a long time.
There were hundreds and hundreds of different Amerind
groups. One only has to glance at the Handbook of North American
Indians and the Handbook of South American Indians to understand
how many and how different they are and were. In the Conquest
period, some were like the Arawaks, a peaceful people in the
Caribbean region who lived a simple, pleasurable life or like the Caribs
who were very warlike and cannibalistic. The Caribs were immigrating
into the Caribbean and were already in Puerto Rico by 1492. Highly
complex, sedentary societies, like the Maya, Toltec, Aztec, and Inca
warrant a detailed examination.
Theocratic Period in Mesoamerica
Perhaps the theocratic period in Mesoamerica was ushered in
by technological changes but we can be sure that organization of society
had undergone a major change. The dominant figure of the new order
was the religious specialist. The center of power was the ceremonial
center. The center was a scared precinct. Within it, the special
apparatus was housed through which supernatural energy was
concentrated, stored, and distributed to the common man. Access to
this power was in the hands of uncommon men, the priest-ruler, whose
special training and esoteric knowledge allowed him to approach the
deity and transmit its will. He wore the symbols of divinity. Priests were
devotees of the supernatural and of power. They were not only full-time
religious practitioners but also specialists in bureaucratic organization.
Murals and pottery of this period show priests not warriors.
There was not much warfare but there was some. The power of the
priest was primarily ideological. Priests also performed economic
functions; they controlled the calendar and religious ceremonies so
people would know when to plant, irrigate, and cultivate and have the
blessings of the gods when they did so. Temples were also depositories
of goods. They administered offerings to the deities. They launched
trade expeditions. Markets were also religious centers; the two
functions were intermingled.
The temple precinct was the center of this new order. The
temples were built in tiers to represent the tiers of the universe or the
temple was the navel of the universe.
Most Mesoamerican religions had multiple gods or multiple
images of their gods or both. Thus, Tlaloc was sometimes represented
as a jaguar, sometimes as a serpent with feathers, sometimes as an owl
or a combination such as jaguar-serpent or serpent-butterfly. To the
Western mind, this is confusing even though Westerners have long
embraced the concept of the Holy Trinity.
The Maya did not call themselves Maya. We do not know what
they called themselves. Their civilization has been the subject of intense
study; considerable progress has been made in the last twenty years
because scholars, using high-speed computers, have been deciphering
Maya pictographs. Still, much of what we know of them is through
inference. The principal source of late Maya history is Father Diego de
Landa, Relación de las Cosas de Yucatán, written before 1556. He
was a Maya-speaking Franciscan.
Maya civilization begins about 2000 BC, a hypothetical date.
During the long formative period, 1000-3000 BC, the population
centers were small, compact and self-contained. They were springing
up all over the area of Yucatán. There was a common trade, common
language and similar cultural traits, i.e. a cultural union but not a political
one. The cities they built endured between 50O BC and 1000 AD.
The Maya were a feudal theocracy. Maya society was a
society where priests ruled the roost. The priestly class was at the apex
of a pyramid with commoners at the base. The common man was a
maize farmer. Like all men of the Americas, he was bound to the soil.
Each member of society was part of a clan. Everything for the common
man came from soil; he fed himself and his family as well as the
bureaucracy. They had a soil and climate that gave them maize in such
awesome quantities that it allowed them leisure. They ate better than did
the classical Greeks. The common man paid taxes.
Water was the one element the Maya could not command.
There were no rivers on Yucatán peninsula. The Maya constructed
reservoirs and cisterns and used the sink holes, cenotes, that naturally
occurred on the limestone shelf of the Yucatán. They also were
seafarers, setting out in large canoes that held as many as forty people.
They cruised for thousands of miles along the Gulf Coast around the
Caribbean, one of the most dangerous of seas. They regularly used the
sea for maritime traffic. In fact, Columbus met a Maya canoe off coast
of Honduras in 1502.
Around AD 800, there were about 3 million people in the
Maya area living in city-states with elaborate public buildings. These
city-states, like those of Greece, had wars, roads, and the other
accouterments of civilization. Their pyramids strove for height and the
roofs of temples on them were combs whereas their artistic style
involved elaborate, even flamboyant, carvings and paintings. They had
numerous religious sites, such as Tikal and Chichen Itzá, and scientific
centers such as Copán. Religion and science were intermingled. By the
end of the 7th century, astronomers had worked out a calendar and
eclipse tables, crucial to their religious practices. They also had the
concept of zero, which Europeans did not have.
Militarists entered the Maya area between 750-900 AD. The
period following the theocratic period was the militaristic. We do not
know why but, after about 1000 AD, the bulk of population was
concentrated in Guatemala and northeastern Yucatán. After 900 AD,
the Maya in northern Yucatán brought into contact with the Toltecs.
There is evidence that Quetzalcoatl was there, that the Toltecs were
influencing the development of Maya culture. By the time the Spanish
arrived, Maya civilization had collapsed.
The Militarist Period
In central Mexico, there were very many Indian cultures which
existed at a high level not just Mexica. Many spoke Nahuatl but there
One of the great ceremonial cities was Teotihuacán some 35
miles northeast of Mexico City. Teotihuacán predates the Nahuatl
speakers like the Aztec. The site contains the impressive Pyramid of the
Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon as well as numerous other buildings.
It was clearly an important religious city but it was burned and its
political structure destroyed about 890 AD. Between 75O-900 AD,
the old world order (in central Mexico) was shaken to its foundations
but we do not know why. Eric Wolfe in Sons of the Shaking Earth
advances the following possibilities:
1. ecological reasons, that is, they fouled their environment
sufficiently to make it difficult to sustain the societies as they
2. the exhaustion of theological power, which means that
people quit believing the priests as much as they had;
3. revolt of the repressed, for there was repression in Maya
society as well;
4. old gods could not stop revolt; and
5. the hinterlands revolted against the wealth and power of the
Regardless, Maya civilization began a decline and was moribund by the
time the Spanish immigrants arrived. Instead, militarists were becoming
the dominant influence in Mesoamerica by the 8th century.
Warfare began on the frontier as groups of fierce people
migrated from the north, taking what they could. The settled peoples
withdrew into fortified regions. New military states developed along old
trade routes. Fortified sites were built along the periphery. One can see
this changes in decorative art, for the soldier replaces the priest.
The largest militarist site was Tula in the present state of
Hidalgo. It is just one example. There were others. In 1168 AD, its
location was significant on the periphery of the Valley of Mexico, on the
outskirts of Teotihuacán. North of Tula was the Gran Chichimeca (the
home of nomadic tribes, often fierce and from whence came the
Aztecs/Mexica). In their role as soldiers, they dominated the area. The
Aztec/Mexica worked under the Tula state and learned to be
mercenaries and to cultivate crops. They took over the Tula site when
the Tula state collapsed and then moved south.
The new militarists moving into the central highlands were called
Toltecs, chichimeca, and Tolteca-chichimeca. In a sense, Toltec meant
civilized and Chichimec meant uncivilized.
There was a sacred and a secular ruler, each with two
assistants. The sacred ruler could not pass his office to members of his
own family. A sacred ruler tried to impose his son, Quetzalcoatl
Opposition drove Quetzalcoatl into exile, splitting loyalties of the state.
What this legend probably means is that the militarists overthrew the
priests. That is the view of Eric Wolfe, Sons of the Shaking Earth.
Wholesale human sacrifice was introduced.
It is important to realize that the myth of the Toltecs is a great as
the actual history. Peoples, like the Aztecs, who came later, liked to
claim that they descended from the Toltecs. In addition, there has been
a tendency for others to refer to many early civilizations as Toltec.
The Toltec state included much of central Mexico and adjacent
areas to the north. The state expanded to get tribute. Tula was the
regional capital of many small villages with rapid growth throughout
period from 750-950. Droughts and fighting between the various
groups resulted in the destruction of Tula about 1150 AD. Some had
left before that date. Quetzalcoatl or Kukulcán in Maya, reportedly
arrived in Maya area in 986-987 AD as a Mexican conqueror. He was
said to have ruled Chichen Itzá until his death
The destruction of Toltec political system was followed by
political fragmentation and chaos. Soldiers bands moved out to grab
what they could of the empire. They all claimed to be Toltecs. The
Tlaxcala and the Tarascan were two important chichimeca nations
which entered central Mexico and claimed the Toltec mantle. Five
Toltec groups rose in the Valley of Mexico: Atzcapotzalco (Tepanec),
Xaltocan, Acolhua, Colhuacan, who had a real claim to Toltec name as
descendants. It is to them that the Mexica went to ask for a legitimate
"Toltec" ruler, and Xicco-Toltec. Thus, the Aztecs sought to claim the
mystique of the Toltecs but their rule was actually based on violence.
One group of chichimecas who brought militarism to its fruition
were the Aztecs who entered the Valley of Mexico at the end of the
13th century with the collapse of Tula. They had begun wandering in the
12th century and finally settled in central Mexico in the 13th century. In
their legends, they came from a place called Aztlán, somewhere in north
or northwest Mexico or even the southwestern United States.
Eventually, they found refuge on a muddy promontory in Lake Texcoco
in the 14th century. Their legend said that Hummingbird-on-the Left told
them to seek an eagle with a snake in its mouth sitting on a rock by a
cactus and settle there.
These Tenocha or Colhua Mexica (Aztec is the well-known
name and will be used) founded the town of Tenochtitlán (ca.
1344-1345), building it in the shadow of the city of Tlatelolco. The two
cities were uneasy allies with Tlatelolco using the Aztecs as mercenary
For many years, they survived by hiring themselves out to the
city-states in the valley as mercenaries. They emerged as a major power
in the Anáhuac valley with the defeat of Atzcapotzalco, the major
power in the valley. Joining with Texcoco and Tlacopan, they led this
triple alliance on a path of conquest which led them to the Gulf of
Mexico and as far south as Guatemala.
In 1473, the Mexica took Tlatelolco by force and replaced the
king with their own. The three stages of the Mexica/Azteca rise to
1. They fought under the Tepanecs of Atzcapotzalco.
2. In 1427, the Aztecs allied with the Acolhua of Texcoco
against the Tepanecs. In 1430, led the Triple Alliance of
Tlacopan (Tacuba), Mexica and Acolhua against Texcoco. By
1468, the Aztecs had a total of 489 cities paying tribute, but its
military conquests were not completed when Hernán Cortez
and his band of soldiers arrived.
3. Beginning in 1500, the third stage, the Aztecs reduced
Tlacopan to a satellite state and, in 1515, put their puppet on
the throne of Texcoco. They were still in the process of
consolidating their power when the Spanish arrived in Mexico in
The king of Texcoco was Netzahualcoyotl (Hungry Coyote).
He was responsible for the construction of the great system of dams
and canals against the lagoon of Texcoco. He gave both the nobles and
the commoners equal representation on the governing council.
Merchants had a say in the economic administration of the state. He
favored professional bureaucrats over soldiers from the nobility. At the
time, Texcoco conquered most of the eastern part of the central
highlands. His reign was saw the development of a legal code, the
growth of monotheism, and the disavowal of human sacrifice. Texcoco
Nahuatl became classic Nahuatl. A poem by Hungry Coyote illustrates
the high culture of Texcoco:
All the earth is a grave and nothing escapes it,
nothing is so perfect that it does not descend to its
tomb. Rivers, rivulets, fountains and waters flow,
but never return to their joyful beginnings; anxiously
they hasten on the vast realms of the rain god. As
they widen their banks, they also fashion the sad
urn of their burial.
Filled are the bowels of the earth with pestilential
dust once flesh and bone, once animate bodies of
man who sat upon thrones, decided cases,
presided in council, commanded armies,
conquered provinces, possessed treasure,
destroyed temples, exulted in their pride, majesty,
fortune, praise and power.
Vanished are these glories, just as the fearful
smoke vanishes that belches forth from the infernal
fires of Popocatepetl. Nothing recalls them but the
The Aztecs never allowed these tendencies to reach full development.
As the Aztecs became an independent power, their social
organization changed from a simple military band to a complex,
hierarchical conquest state. We do not know very much about their
history because King Obsidian Snake (1428-40) destroyed the records
and had their history rewritten. We do know something of their
structure when the Spanish arrived.
The Aztec state was divided into calpulli (big houses). Before
1472, the nobility were probably the heads of the calpulli but after that
date there was the development of a hereditary nobility which claimed
Toltec descent. This gave them social advantages but they did not have
economic power which would make them independent of the calpulli.
The calpulli owned the land. This changed with the defeat of Tepanec,
for the nobility took their land and the peasants who worked the land.
Now, they had advantages over the commoners. Much like their
European counterparts, the nobles created economic bonds over the
people who came to them for work. Other ways to become a knight
besides soldiering, was through trade, for the Aztecs expanded trade.
Through Tlatelolco, they had trading specialists (pochtecas) who
engaged in local and long distance trade. The pochtecas were
semi-autonomous and protected by Aztec armies.
Of course the nobility had special privileges such as the
exclusive right to wear certain clothing and insignia. They had their own
courts. Only they could practice polygamy. Their children could go to
special schools to learn to be bureaucrats.
The commoners had a life centered around the calpulli. Land
was held in common and individuals applied for the right it work it. The
calpulli paid tribute and supplied males for the armies. Males trained for
war in a bachelor house. The calpulli had an armory and served as a
unit in battle. Each calpulli had its own god, temples, and ceremonies in
addition to the gods of the larger society. Although some of this slavery
was temporary, slavery is slavery and differed only in degree from what
has existed in the rest of the world.
In Aztec society, there also were slaves, war (including women
and children), and workers who were in temporary bondage because
they were criminals or had fallen on hard times.
Religion was very important to the Aztecs for they believed that
they had to fight the forces of evil (Satan in Christian parlance ) and
insure that the sun, bravery, sobriety, sexual control, truth, beauty, and
decency would continue. They believed that each world was created
and then consumed in recurrent cataclysms and that each world was
governed by its own sun. They saw themselves as obligated to defend
the fifth sun, the sun to end in earthquakes. It was only through
continuous human sacrifice (the highest possible sacrifice, especially the
heart) and, therefore, constant warfare to capture sufficient victims, that
they could keep the sun in heaven and the world from ending. They
were trying to postpone the end. They had to kill thousands of people
as they fought holy wars for the sun. They were polytheistic. They
worshiped a variety of gods including earth mother goddesses. Their
practices of human sacrifice and cannibalism horrified the Spanish who
believed they had to stop it.
They controlled through war, terror, and tribute. They did not
control everyone in their area. The Tlaxcalan and Tarascan nations were
not controlled by the Aztec nation, for example. The Aztec never
penetrated Yucatán. They were not an empire like the Inca or the
In the Andes, there were many other groups besides the Inca.
In Colombia, for example, there were the Chibcha. Their achievements
were less than the Maya, Aztec, and Inca but greater than a lot of
others. In Bolivia, there were the Aymara. The Inca, however, were the
power of the Andes.
The Inca Empire was the result of well-planned conquest. They
had begun migrating from Cuzco in the 14th century. They incorporated
new areas into the empire very carefully, more so than the Romans.
They removed populations and leaders. Their military system was
keyed to the problems of the various areas. Their roads and bridges
they built were designed so they could send an army into any part of the
Empire when necessary. Their system of internal control and discipline
was very well thought out. They were better organized than any other
group in the hemisphere. It was only under the leadership of Pachacuti
(1438-71) that they acquired much territory, perhaps two-thirds of
what they controlled when the Spanish arrived. It was the arrival of
Francisco Pizarro and his soldiers amidst a civil war in 1532 that halted
their expansion. At the time, they controlled some 12 million people.
Although Quechua was the official language, many other
languages were spoken. The Inca were not the first civilization in Peru.
Many preceded them and they adopted ideas and artifacts they liked.
Imperial policy was to rewrite history to make people believe that they
had always been powerful and were destined to be obeyed.
Andean civilizations had become quite sophisticated in many
ways. The road system was very extensive. Trained runners, stationed
every few miles, could relay messages rapidly from one end of the
empire to the other. Important people could traverse these same roads
and stay at the "motels" that were maintained. The Incas terraced the
land to increase farming acreage. They practiced brain surgery, doing
trepanning to relieve pressure. In dentistry, they made crowns for teeth.
Although they had no writing, they did have the quipu, a knotted cord
used as a memory device.
The death of Huayna Capac (1493-1527) in Quito marked the
beginning of a very serious civil war between the brothers Huascar and
Atahualpa. In part, the war was the northern part of the empire, Quito,
against the southern part, Cuzco. The empire was not prepared for a
constitutional crisis. The system had worked in the past because there
was one ruler who was considered a god. The fraternal dispute,
however, raised questions about the system and allowed all kinds of
rebellion to occur. Atahualpa, who had won the five-year war, faced
the necessity of reincorporating the defeated into the fold and rebuilding
physically what had been destroyed. No doubt he assumed he was up
to the task. Then Pizarro entered the picture.
The Age of Discovery and of Conquest took place during the European
and Spain and Portugal were very much part if this general trend.
Renaissance was a term given to the intellectual activity of 15th century
(and later) by contemporaries. It was based on rediscovery of the
works of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Renaissance men found the
works of the ancients, such as Cicero and Plato, exciting because they
seemed to confirm Renaissance tendencies. They were illuminating They
were secular, as Renaissance men were becoming, rational, scientific,
experimental, instead of being based on religion with its emphasis on
revealed authority and emotions.
To Renaissance men, the ancients were people who thought
and acted with reason and beauty. Thus the Renaissance men thought of
the period from the fall of Rome to their own time as the Dark Ages
(their term) or the Middle Ages (middle between the ancients and their
own time). The Renaissance, in general, rejected the feudal, collectivist
past and focused, instead, on individualism, inquiry, and diversity. The
highest goal, the highest calling, was not to be a monk, thus serving the
Christian God, but to be a man of virtú a man capable of doing
everything well. This spirit of change was directly related to the spirit of
inquiry and discovery. It was the time of the founding of new
universities, including in Spain.
The Renaissance perhaps was the most important and certainly
most secular in Italy but the Northern Renaissance, primarily in the area
now thought of as Germanic (but Latin-speaking at the time), was
important. In the north, the Renaissance was more religious. The
Christian Humanism of Erasmus of Rotterdam was the most important.
Emphasis on faith with the use of reason to understand faith. Reformed
Christianity more saintly, more pious. This influence was felt in Spain,
especially via Bishop Jiménez de Cisneros.
The period of the Renaissance was also the time of the rise of
national monarchy, which eventually led to the modern state. It may be
difficult for twenty-first century people to realize that, for most of
Western history, individualism was seen as bad, as anti-Christian, as a
threat to society. Prior to the modern age, loyalties were to a collective,
a group such as the family, class, the church, the village, to the feudal
system. Territory was ruled by a feudal lord whose duty it was to
protect and, thus, govern his vassals. He maintained his own courts,
army, etc. He was able to demand material support from those under
him. By the time of the Renaissance, he was also lord of the manor the
great estate. He was virtually sovereign in his own territory, limited by
his will, wealth, and willingness to obey the contractual requirements of
his oath to his lord, if he had one.
The king, generally, had been only one of many lords, often
weaker than some of his vassals. The goal of kings over the centuries
was to rule as well as reign. To do so, a king had to build an army
capable of vanquishing his foes, a task which required money. Since
taxes were fixed by tradition and thus unchangeable or levied only with
the consent of the important people in the society through a consultative
or legislative body (Cortés, Parliament, Estates-General, as example)
which was dominated by rivals to the monarchy, the nobility), kings had
great difficulty in finding new sources of income. If they could find
enough money, they could assert their authority over the subjects, over
the kingdom, thus welding it into a single unit.
They also had to gain power over the other powerful institutions
of medieval society. The most powerful was the Church. It permeated
every aspect of medieval life. Its teachings were the standards people
followed or, at least, paid lip service.
Since the Papacy needed and wanted support in the Pope's political
rivalries, and, after the beginning of the Protestant revolt in 1517,
religious rivalries, it was willing to yield control to monarchs for a price.
This was gradually done.
Thus, the gain control of his kingdom, the monarch had to
control the Church and tame the nobility the elite of society.
Because of the economic revival of Europe (perhaps as early as
the 11th century), there was the rise of a new class in society. Unlike
the peasant who earned her/his livelihood from laboring on the land or
the upper class (nobility and clergy) who received its wealth from rents,
taxes, and such, this new group earned its keep by trade or by making
and selling things. They tended to live in towns because (1) title to land
was unavailable (2) protection, and (3) convenience (being near
markets and money lenders, for example). They resented the nobility's
predatory habits and constant warfare. They needed peace, uniform
laws over large areas, a common currency, and freedom from arbitrarily
imposed taxes or financial levies. The king could provide these if he had
money and this rising middle class had money. Thus, two needs were
met. Town-dwelling merchants and artisans paid taxes to the Crown in
order to subjugate the nobility.
On this basis, the new monarchs slowly crushed their opposition
and began to govern large areas, unifying the people in the area through
an allegiance to a common crown. Royal control of the courts, armies,
and the Church characterized the new monarchies. The nobleman
retained some power, however, until the late 18th century. In Central
and Eastern Europe, the nobility retained power longer.
The Iberian peninsula contains the present-day nations of Spain,
Portugal, and Andorra. The region has been a melting pot of many
people for centuries. Celts, black Africans, Romans, Moors, Goths,
Arabs, and many others came and interbred. It was a Roman province.
The Arab conquest began in 711 as they crossed to attack the
Visigoths. The Arabs conquered much of Spain and held it for
It was a long reconquest for “Spaniards” mainly defined as
Christians. The Reconquista in Spanish history was very important in
shaping Spanish attitudes. Most of the Reconquista had been done by
the mid-13th century and Spaniards slowly continued to take back the
land. The fall of Granada in 1492 was not terribly important in the
scheme of things. Perhaps it had psychological repercussions because it
meant that Spain was whole again, except that Portugal was still a
separate kingdom but might not have been.
Spain and Portugal, especially the latter, were centers of great
learning during the middle ages while the rest of Europe was relatively
unprogressive. Islam made Spain a great cultural center. Moslems were
tolerant of people of the Book, that is, Jews and Christians. It was
through learned Moslems that the West rediscovered the writings of
ancient time and though Moslem culture that the idea of romance was
promulgated. Regardless of their accomplishments, the Moslems or
Moors were not Christian, so the Spanish people would never accept
them. Instead, the either tried to convert them convert them or drive
The question sometimes arises as to whether Spain, because of
its Islamic history, was different from the rest of Europe, whether it was
more oriental and fatalistic. National character studies are very difficult
to make and fraught with danger. Suffice it to say that the Spanish and
Portuguese were European. Their monarchies were much more like
other European monarchies than not. There was little, if anything, that
they did that would have been done differently by others. Spain was
characteristic of Renaissance Europe, even in its religious fervor.
It was important that Spain and Portugal had national dynastic
monarchies. Nationalism meant escaping from the feudal system of
personal allegiance and widespread fragmentation. National dynastic
monarchies had a larger organized unit as a source of power and had
more control. England was the first national state and Spain and
Portugal were early as well.
Spain had been conquered and occupied by Moslems and the
Reconquest gave a crusading spirit to Spanish Christianity and a strong
military cast to the Spanish upper class. Spain reconquered Granada
but this event is not that important in explaining how and why Spain
conquered the New World. By the mid-13th century, nearly all of Spain
had been reconquered, long before Spain discovered America 150
years later. Spain was not really a single kingdom but we use the term
"Spain" for convenience. The Iberian peninsula still had separate
kingdoms with lots of differences including language, provincial loyalties,
and regional jealousies. The fruition of the movement to create a
Spanish national monarchy was coming to past at time of discovery.
Portugal was a dynastic state well before the Conquest.
For expansion, these monarchies had to have the following.
Geographical position was important; it is hard to conceive of Germans
or Russians making the voyages of discovery and conquest. It took
economic resources to mount these expeditions; principalities generally
could not afford such enterprises. Without sufficient political
organization, it would not have happened. Feudal lords did not have the
leadership nor the bureaucracy necessary to do these things. England
did, of course, but it was engaged in the War of the Roses, a civil war,
and the necessary process of consolidation by the victor. It and other
monarchies did not have the will to participate in a conquest. Spain and
The unification of Spain under Ferdinand and Isabela was not
as systematic and easy as the creation of the Portuguese national
monarchy for it took longer, but that fact was not the chief source of
difficulty in "Spain" launching voyages of exploration and conquest.
Both Spain and Portugal were closer to America, but it is not
clear how important geographical position was. The economies,
technologies, political organization, and will were such that Europe was
about to discover America. The Portuguese were working off Africa.
Because of this, America was bound to be discovered, bound to have
someone blow across the Atlantic to America. Factors which made it
possible included technological change in sea-going vessels, the
astrolabe, better maps, compasses, sail patterns, and timber. One
advantages of the Spanish and Portuguese in the 16th century was that
their most likely rivals were busy.
The dynastic system was a new thing. It was an improvement
over feudalism in that the centralization of power signaled who was
going to lead the "nation." It, thus, made it clear who had the right to
rule. System worked. Succession is always the big problem in politics
and the dynastic monarchy largely solved that problem.
In the history of 16th century Spanish monarchy, Spain was
blessed by good rulers. Ferdinand and Isabela were highly competent
people. They ruled their respective kingdoms independently, but
cooperated for many purposes. Ferdinand tended to do the foreign
policy for both kingdoms. Charles I (1516-1556), their grandson,
effectively represented the merger of the two crowns. Was the fact that
he was also Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire a help or hindrance?
That is a source of debate among historians. Charles was the greatest
monarch in Europe. He was a man of considerable ability, fine
character, and sense of responsibility. He gave it all up in 1556 and
went into monastery. Philip II (1556-1598) has had a very bad press,
some justified but a lot exaggerated. He was even more governed by his
religious beliefs that his father. Christians who did not believe the things
that he did consider him a fanatic. He was a little pig-headed but he
provided stability. He had a tremendous sense of responsibility.
Some historians argue that he could not delegate responsibility.
In fact, there was a lot of delegation of authority because he could not
do it all. He tried to do more than was possible. The system was
snowed under by paperwork but he made his situation worse by
wasting time in reading too much of the correspondence instead of
having more of it read by others. When reading a letter from his
ambassador to England, who was stuck in London writing a report to
the king while the other important people had left the city, he made a
notation on the margin of the letter. Next to where the ambassador had
described some insects buzzing around the window, Phillip II had
written "probably flies."
Castile and Isabela I (1474-1504)
Castile was the stronger of the two as well as the largest and
strongest of the states on the Iberian peninsula. Each monarch ruled in
his or her area but Ferdinand could not leave Castile without Isabela's
permission. The king was less powerful in Aragón. They divided the
duties with Isabela doing domestic affairs and Ferdinand doing foreign
policy. Castile was the key kingdom on the peninsula, managing to
impose many of its ways on everyone else. So Castile is the key.
The area ruled by Castile had to be pacified. The nobility were
a threat because each nobleman wanted autonomy and quite a few
were rich and powerful. The Crown has greatly strengthened itself by
alliance with the towns against the nobles who, with their wealth and
landed estates, were a threat to both. The grandees were called
"cousin" by the monarch; they did not have to remove their hats in the
royal presence, a reflection of their almost equal status with the
monarch. Isabela tore down their castles, limited private jurisdictions,
and ended their more pretentious imitations of royal customs. She
deprived the nobility of almost all influence in royal councils in favor of
letrados or ecclesiastics. The letrados were university-educated men
with no titles of nobility; thus, they were totally dependent upon the
Crown for income and status. The nobility were also attracted to court,
thus reducing their attention to their own estates. They lost power in the
Cortés in favor of the Crown. She used corregidores on the town
councils as an offset to the nobility.
Aragón and Ferdinand II (1479-1516)
The Cortés was composed of four estates instead of the
customary three. The greater and the lesser nobility sat separately.
Passing laws in the Cortés required unanimous consent, which was hard
for the Crown to get. The coronation oath by the nobility indicated the
limitations on the monarch, for they said:
We who are as good as you swear to you who are
no better than we, to accept as our king and
sovereign lord, provided you accept all our liberties
and laws; if not, not.
Aragón headed a Mediterranean empire. It controlled the
Balearic Islands, Sardinia, Sicily, and the southern half of Italy. It had a
quite different focus from Castile because it was oriented towards the
Mediterranean. The conquest of much of the New World would change
The Spanish church was a unifying factor. The Spanish were
very devout Christians, who believed that they had the duty to convert
others to the faith, by persuasion or force. The Spanish Christian church
had been reformed by Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros,
incorporated ideas from Erasmus and other Christian humanists. The
church did not have to pay attention to the boundaries of the various
kingdoms on the peninsula. However, it was almost completely
subordinated to the Crown of Castile, which enjoyed the patronado
real. This royal patronage gave the Crown to decide which papal bulls
would be published in Spain and to appoint high ecclesiastical officials.
The Inquisition was a chief instrument of the Crown and the
Church. It was an instrument to strengthen monarchy and to unify the
two kingdoms. Medieval Spain was one of the most tolerant lands in
medieval Europe, a place where Christians, Jews, and Moslems lived in
harmony. That had been the policy of the Moslems when they ruled
Spain; the Christians continued it. By the 15th century, however,
intolerance grew, evidenced by mob violence and persecution laws. In
1492, Castile passed a law requiring Jews to become Christians or go
into exile. Spaniards increasingly saw Moslems as a problem. The
Moslems rebelled against religious intolerance and were ordered to
convert to Christianity or leave. Too many Spaniards were beginning to
believe that loyalty to the monarch and to Spain required that everyone
believe the same.
The Inquisition stood for social justice. It ignored class
distinctions, economic status, and other such differences. It tended to
reduce all men to a common level before the law (which was a very
leftist posture). Judged by the standards of the times, the Spanish
Inquisition was neither cruel nor unjust in its procedure and penalties. In
many ways, it was more just and humane than almost any other tribunal
in Europe. Conviction, for example, required seven witnesses. The
accused was allowed the assistance of trained lawyers and an advocate.
An accused could challenge a judge because of prejudice and make a
list of all his enemies, thus excluding them from testifying. False
accusations carried severe penalties. The Inquisition took good care of
its prisoners. Unlike other European justice systems, it was very sparing
in the use of torture and, when it did, used the more humane forms.
What was terrifying about it was its secrecy. People could be arrested
and held for years by the Inquisition.
In the 16th century, Spain contained about 10 million people of
whom about 7 million were in Castile. As a unified kingdom, it was
large enough to have weight in world affairs.
It supported itself by the production of raw material. Castile, in
particular, sold wool. Migratory sheep, usually merino sheep, were a
very important part of the economy.. Spanish wool was the best in the
world. By the beginning of the16th century, there were millions of
sheep. The Mesta, which had royal support, controlled 3.5 million
sheep but not all the sheep in the kingdom. Mesta taxes and gifts were a
principal source of revenue for the Crown before the Conquest. It used
the Consulado of Burgos to market the wool.
One common assertion has been that the Mesta destroyed
Castilian agriculture because the herds had the freedom to cross fields
and destroy crops. The decline, however, was largely due to the
traditions of the country which despised the tilling of the soil as a menial
occupation fit only for serfs and Moriscos. These attitudes were formed
during the centuries-long Reconquista (the reconquering of Spain from
the Moslems) during which armies, led by the nobility, regularly trod
Spain was leading the commercial revolution, especially in the
Mediterranean, and was the home of early capitalism. However, the
discovery of American gold and silver elsewhere and caused such
inflation in Spain that it destroyed enterprise.
The Spanish military was formidable. It was invested with a halo
or romance and chivalry. The horseman or caballero, in other words, a
knight, was exalted. He was considered a gentlemen, far above those
lowly people on foot, the peones. El Cid was a hero. Spanish soldiers,
regardless of rank, possessed religious zeal; they saw themselves as
soldiers of God. If asked why they fought, their first answer would be
for God, and they would mean it. Religious zealotry can be difficult for
the modern person to understand even though plenty of it exists.
Spanish military had a tradition of victory. For 150 years, no Spanish
army was defeated in a pitched battle. Spain was the great power of
Europe for a long time.
Part of the infantry’s success was its organization and
weaponry. The Spanish infantry wore defensive armor. It was organized
with the coronelías, 6,000 men, until 1634 when it started using the
tercio, 3,000 men. An army typically had half the men armed with long
pikes, one-third with short sword and javelin, and one-sixth with an
arquebus. This army could cut its way through armies larger in size. The
conquistadores knew the Spanish military system.
Spanish politics, 1504-1598
Isabela died in 1504 and her daughter, Juana la Loca (Crazy
Joanie), became queen with Ferdinand as regent. She married Philip I
of the Hapsburg dynasty who pushed Ferdinand aside to assume the
throne. He died within a year and Ferdinand returned as regent until his
death in 1516. Charles of Ghent, Juana's oldest son, inherited the throne
but he was Flemish and alien to Spain. Many Spaniards did not want
this "foreigner" to assume the throne. Castile was on the verge of
rebellion. Spanish xenophobia had grown over the last century.
Charles was sixteen years old with a stupid-looking face and
the enormous Hapsburg jaw. He was a very quiet person with a
coldness of manner. He had gluttonous habits. He aged prematurely. He
suffered from gout, which the ignorant thought meant that he
overindulged in food and drink. He had an apparent contempt for
Spain and did not bother to learn the language in his first years as king.
In 1519, he got the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, borrowing
substantial sums from the Fugger banking interests. This annoyed the
Spanish nobility, for it meant that Spain was not his top priority. In sum,
he was king but unpopular.
Some of this dislike manifested itself in the comunero revolt.
When these townsmen started turning to social revolution, the nobility
began to back the Crown. After the revolt was crushed, Castile
enjoyed a period of peace and rising prosperity. The failure of the
comuneros strengthened the Crown.
Reasons for the increase in royal power:
! The lesser nobility (hidalgos) took the Crown's side in
the comunero revolt. They took control of the towns.
Hidalgos (barely noblemen) looked to the Crown for
appointments and favors.
! The king devoted himself to Spain and learned Spanish,
having realized that it was in his self-interest to do so.
! At first, Spanish prosperity was based on American
bullion plus increased demands for manufactured goods
from America. Profit rate was 166%. Spanish wool and
silk industries grew.
Sometime after 1556, Castile industry declined because:
! The influx of the bullion raised Spanish prices making it
a bad market to buy from but a good seller’s market.
This ruined the Spanish export trade to Europe.
! Unsound economic policy of the government was a
factor. The hidalgos were interested in lower prices and
used laws to lower prices and put prohibitions on the
! The hidalgos sacrificed agriculture to the Mesta, the
sheep herding guild.
! The upper-class (and therefore, Spanish) attitudes
looked down on industry and commerce.
! The American colonies increasingly turned to domestic
! The Crown taxed too much.
Charles I and Wars
Spain was constantly embroiled in wars because Charles I was
also Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire. Charles ruled, directly or
indirectly, the Spanish New World, the Philippines, half of Italy, part of
North Africa, parts of the Germanies and Austria, and the Netherlands.
He fought the Turks and Protestants in the wars of the
Counter-Reformation. He was involved in English and French affairs as
well as the rest of the Holy Roman Empire.
In 1556, Charles, tired of the enormous burdens of ruling such a
vast empire and of the constant warfare, retired to a monastery, where
he could devote his life to Christianity. He yielded the Spanish throne to
his son, Philip, and the Holy Roman Empire to his brother Ferdinand.
Philip II (1556-98)
Philip became Spain's greatest king, arriving in 1559 and never
leaving it again. He was fair-haired, growing prematurely bald, fresh
complexioned, blue-eyed, shorter than average, and had the Hapsburg
jaw. His health was poor.
Philip II has been given bad press by non-Spanish historians
and publicists. He was an exceptionally dutiful son, devoted husband,
and understanding and affectionate father. He led a sexually moral life
except briefly after the death of his first wife, María of Portugal. He
was kind to the poor and interested in the welfare of his servants. He
had a zeal for social justice. He was truthful, devout, and frugal while
being generous to others. He had a comparatively high education and
culture. He read and wrote Latin extremely well. He also wrote
Spanish, French, and Italian. His library contained 4,000 volumes. He
liked paintings and music and played the guitar.
Philip believed that divine right meant that he had to look after
the welfare of every subject. He worked tirelessly on their behalf, rising
early and going to bed late. Self-abnegation and self control were
hallmarks of his character.
To help him rule, he used a councilor form of government.
There were twelve councils with the Consejo de Estado being the lead.
For America, there was the Real y Supremo Consejo de las Indias.
Although these councils were large bureaucracies and worked hard,
they were entirely dependent on the king. Philip trusted no one but
himself. He read everything; nothing escaped his attention. He did not
prioritize what he read; he did not distinguish between the important and
the trivial. The Spanish government fell further and further behind. His
viceroy in Naples remarked "if death came from Spain, we should live
to a very great age."
Philip was a devout Christian who heard Mass every day. In his
view, not to be a Catholic was to be a traitor. His foreign policy was
also motivated by his Christianity, but he modified it at times for reasons
of state. He favored Elizabeth I of England over Mary, Queen of Scots,
because Mary, through the Guise family, had ties to France, a chief
rival. He also followed an anti-papal policy, for the Pope was a secular
prince as well as a religious ruler. Besides, he was not convinced that
the Pope was as Christian as he was.
His aims were to strengthen royal power, acquire Portugal, and
dominate the British Isles and France by intervening in their religious
struggles. Most of all, he wanted to make Spain great.
Portugal began as a small principality on the west coast of the
Iberian peninsula. The rulers worked to achieve recognition as a
sovereign kingdom. They achieved the goal in 1143 AD.
In 1385, the House of Avis established a new dynasty. The next
year, the kingdom signed an alliance with the English monarchy.
Portugal thereafter was dependent upon the English monarchy.
The Avis dynasty was imperialistic. In 1415, the monarchy
captured Ceuta on the African coast. Prince Henry (the Navigator)
personified Portuguese imperialistic until his death in 1460. He created
sailing schools with oceanographers and cartographers. By 1424,
Portuguese sailors were in the Canary Islands; by 1445, they took the
Azores. They were bumping down the coast of Africa, looking for trade
and people to convert to Christianity. They were trying to find a route to
Asia. Vasco da Gama in a 1497-99 voyage reached India, opening the
route to Asia. On one of these voyages along the coast of Africa, Pedro
Alvares Cabral's fleet touched Brazil in April, 1500. Although Portugal
had received "title" to Brazil with the Treaty of Todesillas in 1494, most
of its efforts were directed towards Asia. The Portuguese settled Brazil
but it was a backwater of the empire for a generation.
The Portuguese crown, like the Spanish, French, and English
crowns, worked to centralize authority in its own hands and destroy the
power of the nobility. All succeeded eventually but the Portuguese case
was somewhat easier because the kingdom was so small.
Manoel I, "the Fortunate," (1495-1521) married the daughter
of Ferdinand of Aragón and Isabela of Castile. He expelled or
converted Jews; most were converted by force. These "New
Christians" played an important role in Portugal and Brazil.
João III (1521-1557) continued the expansion and consolidation but,
after 1557, Portugal found itself overextended. The kingdom only had
between one and one and one-half million people in the 16th century.
When one factors out women, children, and old men, there were not
enough people to run an empire with territories in South America,
Africa, and Asia. Sebastião (1557-1578) was a boy king. He was
mentally unbalanced and disappeared in battle in Morocco in 1578.
There was great confusion over his death. An old great uncle too the
throne until 1580. Phillip II "inherited, bought, and conquered" the
Portuguese throne. He claimed that he had inherited it from the
progeny of Manoel I.
Christopher Columbus, a Genoese, made four epochal voyages in small
ships; his flagship, the Santa Maria, was only 759 feet by 25 feet with a
draft of 6 feet. In 1492, he and his crews sailed to the Canary Islands,
the Bahamas, the coast of Cuba, the coast of Española, the Azores, and
back to Lisbon. In 1493, they went to the Canaries, the Windward
Islands, the Leeward Islands, Española, Cuba, and back in 21 days. In
1498, they went to the Canaries, the Cape Verde Islands, and Trinidad.
Finally, in 1502 , they sailed to the Canaries, Dominica, Cuba,
Honduras, Panama, Cuba, and then home. Although the Spanish
Crown and others were mildly interested in the voyages, it took the
Magellan voyage to be absolutely sure of what they had found.
Columbus never knew what he had found. The Spanish world was not
overturn by discovery; there was no "mad rush" to go to the New
World. For 20 years people became a little more disillusioned. The
islands in the Caribbean were used as a center of exploration for years.
The things they found in the West Indies not that important or valuable
enough to bring reinforcements from Europe. Columbus' first settlement
was in Española but the Spanish did not have anyone to do the work
(which they were not going to do). The Indians died off in large
numbers. This led Bartolomé de Las Casas to become a Dominican
monk and fight to preserve the Amerinds.
Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, born the son of a poor nobleman in
1475, went to the New World in 1500 as part of an expedition to the
coast of Colombia. He settled on Española (or Hispaniola) but left in
1510, one step ahead of his creditors, and went to Panama, where he
founded the town of Darién. In 1513, Balboa headed west and sighted
the Pacific Ocean. However, the Crown had appointed a court favorite,
Pedrarias Dávila, as governor of Darién, and made Balboa serve under
Pedrarias as governor of an area on the Pacific coast.
The Pedrarias Expedition
Pedro Arias Dávila (1447-1531) or Pedrarias Dávila, was 72
years old and well-connected at court. His large expedition of more
than 20 ships and 1,200 men and women was outfitted at Sevilla in
1514. He was made governor of an indeterminate territory. With him
were Francisco de Coronado, Hernando de Soto, and Diego de
Almagro. He went to the settlement at Darién where Balboa was.
Balboa had heard the story of the golden man, a man who covered
himself with gold dust and jumped to his death in a lake. Balboa and
friends took off looking for gold, but found none. The Balboa
settlement was not doing very well when Pedrárias arrived to take
command. They were not finding anything the Crown or anyone else
wanted; they were living in mud huts (bohíos) which were surrounded
by a wooden palisade; and there was not enough food. The rustic
settlement could barely support the Balboa party much less the
Pedrarias influx. They had to have enough Spanish die so they could the
abandon settlement, to disobey the Crown's orders. So, they sat and
watched each other die until enough had died to justify moving. These
men (and the few women brought by Pedrárias) were tough-minded
and callous. They had to be to survive in this unknown and hostile land.
We know something about how they amused themselves during
this dying time because they left notarial records. A group got into a
debate as to whether or not their war dogs could tell the difference
between a friendly Indian and an unfriendly one. Eventually, they
decided to put the question to the test and bet on the outcome. They
had a notary create a document (which survives) outlining the terms of
the wager and how much each bet. They called an old Indian woman to
them, gave her an errand, and sent her own her way. Then they
unleashed a dog, who ran after her. She fell to her knees, begging the
dog not to kill her. The dog stopped and sniffed. No doubt the betters
were going nuts by this time. Then the dog lifted his leg, urinated on
her, and walked away. The record does not show which side won the
be but no doubt they argued over the meaning of the dog’s action.
The Requerimiento was brought out by Pedrarias. The
requerimiento was the long document, written in Spanish, that
explained the Christian faith, that the Spanish Crown had God-given
dominion over unbelievers and how the people who heard this had to
accept it or be conquered and punished. Thus, the Spanish justified their
conquest. After all, even though the natives could not understand what
was being said (especially when the document was read miles off
shore), the Spanish had given them a chance to accept the truth faith.
That it was Pedrarias, one of the most cynical of the Spanish, who
brought it to the New World was fitting.
Pedrárias decided to eliminate his rival Balboa. He trumped-up
charges and had him executed in 1519. What was left of the two
groups, now combined, finally left Darién. Many went to Cuba.
Pedrárias moved the settlement to the Pacific side of Panama (1519),
which became the center of exploration towards the south. It took
years, until 1529, before the high culture of Peru was reached. They did
not penetrate much into northern South America for years. Pedrarias
was a partner with Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro to mount
expeditions southward but never went himself. Instead, his partners
bought him out for a small sum in 1526. He returned to Spain, where he
died in 1530.
Principal Problems Involved in the Conquest and Initial
1. The exploration and identification of territory and what was
in it. They were remarkably good at this, for they found
everything important on two continents within seventy-five
2. They had to conquer and control the Amerinds. They did
not do things to sustain Indian population, and there was a
90% reduction in Indian population by 1650. The
pandemics of deadly diseases made both conquest and
3. They had to create institutions that would provide an orderly
life in America for Spaniards and permit effective metropolitan
control over the colonies.
4. In places where there were large Amerind populations, they
had to change Indian behavior. They made the Indians adopt
European ways of doing things. This involved which crops were
grown, the husbandry of domestic animals, clothing,
architectural styles, and much more. In essence, they had to
change the Amerind population into quasi-Europeans, but the
were often frustrated by the persistence of Amerind ways.
How battles were won
1. The Amerind military’s disciplinary structure was inferior to
that of the Spanish.
2. This was partly related to the Aztec and other Amerind
social structure which was very hierarchical. When the leader
was killed, the others tended to give up.
3. The Aztecs and other Amerinds were superstitious and
believed in bad portents or omens. The Spanish used this
4. The Amerinds did not have Spanish individualism. The
Amerind (Indians) were not as egotistical as the Spanish, who
were most reluctant to give up the ghost.
5. The Spanish had physical advantages such as war dogs,
horses, firearms, steel swords, and armor. Being charged by a
horse or a mastiff was frightening. Steel cut efficiently and
6. The Spanish had better war tactics and technology. They
knew how to win battles, in Europe and America.
7. The Spanish had psychological advantages. If the Amerinds
had realized how little difference Spanish arms meant, they
would have done better. The Spanish engaged in psychological
warfare and, also, never showed weakness.
8. The Amerinds were vastly outnumbered. The invaders
numbered in the millions, for millions and millions of microbes
carrying diseases to which the Amerinds had no immunity
attacked Amerind populations and weakened and killed them.
Disease was decisive.
It is difficult to know how many people the Spanish killed. They
exaggerated or boasted because they were trying to impress the Crown
so they would be awarded more or because the wanted to assert how
manly they were or both. Bartolomé de las Casas' figures on the
numbers killed were polemics; he was not trying to be objective. How
many were killed in battle? Not many. Most of them gave up.
Some of the records of the Conquest period are misleading.
The conquistadores did not think much of the Amerinds; their interest
was in not believing good things about them. They had no reason,
therefore, to pay much attention to casualties. They were too busy
conquering and, after all, from their viewpoint, their opponents were just
heathens who stood in the way of Spaniards. Many of the casualty
records exist in letters written back to officials and others in Spain. The
conquistadores were trying to make the case that they had suffered so
much but had won against formidable odds and, therefore, they should
be amply rewarded by the Crown! For example, Bernal Díaz, in his
True History of the Conquest of New Spain, wrote of how many
Amerinds were killed but his figures do not bear close scrutiny. He was
very old when he wrote the book and sought to convince his readers
that the conquest of Mexico was very dangerous and that the
conquistadores deserved great rewards. Further, he was defending
Cortez. In short, he was biased. An Aztec view of the Conquest can be
found in The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of
Mexico, edited by Miguel Leon-Portilla. While there is no doubt that
the conquistadores faced mortal danger in fighting Amerinds, they
claimed too much. In fact, they did not conquer the New World.
The inhabitants of the New World had no serious infectious
diseases which were transferable to Europeans or Africans except,
perhaps syphilis, but they had no immunity to African and European
diseases. Because of this, there was a demographic disaster in the
Americas. Microbes, not humans, conquered the New World.
The scope of the disaster reflected the dense population of
central Mexico and the highlands of the Andes. The two most important
American food crops, maize (corn) and potatoes, were more
productive of calories per acre than any Old World crops except rice.
This allowed denser populations per square mile than anywhere except
East Asia. The American population may have been 100 million
persons with 25-30 million in central and southern Mexico and an equal
amount in the Andean highlands. By 1568, however, the population of
central Mexico had dropped to 3 million. By 1620, 1.6 million.
Disease spread silently and rapidly. For example, there were some
6,000-8,000 Cayapo in South America in 1903 when a single priest
arrived. He wanted to safeguard them from the evils and dangers of
civilization but he did not realize that he was introducing contagious
disease into a population which had no immunity. By 1918, only
Cayapo survived; by 1927, only 27. by 1950, there were only 2 or 3.
Faith in established institutions and beliefs cannot easily
withstand such disaster. Skills and knowledge disappear. There was
wholesale demoralization and simple surrender of will. Although
Europeans and Africans did not do this intentionally, modern biological
terrorists understand these effects.
In America, the rapid spread of these fatal diseases created
labor shortages and economic regression. The population decline
destroyed the requerimiento. Haciendas became more attractive to
Spaniards and Amerinds alike. They provided a haven for the native
population and made them easier to control and work.
Smallpox was in Hispaniola by 1518. Las Casas said that only
one thousand survived the epidemic. It reached Mexico in 1520 when
Pánfilo de Narváez arrived. Between the time of Moctezuma's death
and La Noche Triste in 1520, smallpox raged in Tenochtitlán. Leaders
died within hours of Cortez > retreat. The Aztecs were beaten by
smallpox long before they were beaten by Cortez. By 1520, smallpox
had also spread to Guatemala. By 1525 or 1526, it was killing people
in the Inca empire. Pizarro and his men found a population devastated
by this deadly disease. The Spanish were immune, giving credence to
their claims of superiority. Both the Spanish and the Amerinds saw the
smallpox pandemic as divine punishment for the Amerind way of life.
Stunned acquiescence to Spanish "superiority" was seen as the only
Other diseases were also devastating. Measles were in Mexico
and Peru by 1530-31. Typhus may have come to the New World by
1546. There was an influenza epidemic in 1558-59; the European
epidemic lasted from 1556 to 1560 and killed 20% of England's
population. The Amerinds also had to withstand diphtheria and mumps
epidemics. A German missionary in 1699 observed "The Indians die so
easily that the bare look and smell of a Spaniard causes them to give up
the ghost." Breath instead of smell would have been more accurate! The
Amerinds were also inflicted with the African diseases of yellow fever
and malaria. Yellow fever came to the Caribbean from West Africa in
1648, hitting Havana and the Yucatán.
As one Amerind observed:
Great was the stench of death. After our fathers
and grandfathers succumbed, half the people fled
to the fields. The dogs and vultures devoured the
bodies. The mortality was terrible. Your
grandfathers died, and with them died the son of
the king and his brothers and kinsmen. So it was
that we became orphans, oh, my sons! So we
became when we were young. All of us were thus.
We were born to die!
The Conquest of Mexico
By 1517, Cuba had become the most important Spanish
settlement in America. It was comparatively well-developed, cultivating
European plants and livestock. It exported its food surplus.
Governor Diego de Velásquez, who had replaced the
Columbus family as governor, sent expeditions to explore the western
Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. In 1517, Francisco Hernández de
Córdoba skirted the Yucatán peninsular and then probed inland where
the expedition saw the deserted Mayan cities of Chichén Itzá and
Chichén Viejo. In 1518, Juan de Grijalva sailed from Cozumel to north
of present-day Veracruz and heard rumors that there were lots of rich
people in the interior. The Aztec emperor, Moctezuma, sent men to find
out who the Spanish were and what they were doing there. Grijalva
took gold back to Cuba. That got the Spanish excited! The Spanish
decided to ascertain whether the rumors of this wealth were true. In
1519, Velásquez named Hernán Cortez to command a large expedition
Cortez was born in Estremadura, Castile in 1485 and went to
Hispaniola in 1504 at the age of nineteen. His connections got him an
encomienda, a grant of Amerinds. He served under Velásquez in 1511
when the latter conquered Cuba and was rewarded with a second
encomienda. He lived the life of a gentlemen and became alcalde of
Santiago de Cuba. The red-headed Cortez saw his chance to achieve
fortune and fame.
Cortez organized the expedition but Velásquez decided that
Cortez could not be trusted and canceled the expedition. Cortez,
however, sneaked out of the harbor quickly on February 10, 1519. His
orders were to explore and trade only; he was not to conquer. His
expedition consisted of 11 ships, 553 soldiers, 110 sailors, 16 horses,
and 14 small cannons. Only 44 of the soldiers had guns; the rest had
pikes and swords. They carried large supplies of food, including pigs,
and trinkets for trade.
In the Yucatán, they easily defeated some Mayas. They
recruited Jerónimo de Aguilar, a shipwrecked Spaniard who had
learned the Maya language. Cortez had sought him out. The expedition
continued along the Tabasco coast. It fought some Tabascans and won.
They found Marina, an Indian woman who spoke both the Maya
language and Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. She served as his
translator and mistress. (In modern Mexican history, she became the
symbol of collaborationism and betrayal of her own people). Aztecs
scouts, meanwhile, were reporting the progress of the expedition to
Moctezuma. At Veracruz, Aztec emissaries appeared and asked
Cortez to go away. They brought Cortez valuable gifts to bribe him to
leave. that was a mistake, for now Cortez and his men could see that
wealth existed in the interior. He politely refused to leave, saying that he
represented the greatest king on earth and had come to pay a courtesy
call. Cortez always meant to accomplish something spectacular,
something which would give him power, wealth, and fame.
The Aztec emissaries, not understanding how greedy and sinful
Europeans were, erred in giving them even a hint of how wealthy their
society was. Cortez now decided to oust Velásquez from any role and
become a free agent. He persuaded the men to unload all their supplies,
strip their ships, and set fire to them. There would be no turning back.
Cortez had himself elected governor by the town of Veracruz. Real
justification in the enterprises was what you accomplished; if you gave
the Crown something it wanted, it would forgive . Creating a town gave
the Crown a legal out if it wanted one. Cortez was smart enough to
The march inland was quite an epic event. He discovered
divisions among the Amerinds and the fear of Moctezuma. He learned
their legends. When he could, he recruited Amerind groups as allies,
sometimes having to defeat them first. They did not have a sense of
cultural self-consciousness. They did not see it as an Amerind-European
conflict. The Spanish were just another group of people to them. Cortez
and his soldiers had Amerind allies as some groups sought revenge on
their enemies, especially the Aztecs.
Moctezuma was interested in accommodation with the Spanish.
Moctezuma was frightened because of bad omens that had been
happening for the last ten years of his reign: volcanic eruptions, pillars of
fire, sudden conflagrations and floods, thunderbolts, waterspouts,
two-headed men, and a bird with a mirror in his head! His priests found
bad omens wherever they looked. Then there was the coincidental
appearance of a comet. Perhaps he believed the legend of
Quetzalcoatl, this half man-half God who was to return in 1519. Cortez
heard the legend and encouraged the Aztecs to believe that he
represented the return of Quetzalcoatl. Spanish were not interested in
accommodation; they wanted everything and as quickly as possible.
Moctezuma tried to appease Cortez with gifts as he marched to
Tenochtitlán, trying to get him to reverse course.
Cortez defeated the Tlaxcalan people, who came close to
beating him, and convinced 5,000 of them to join with him. The
Tlaxcala had never been defeated by the Aztecs. They taught the
Spanish the major political strengths and weaknesses of the Aztec.
Cortez learned that Moctezuma's power was built on fear and that the
Aztecs were mostly interested in capturing enemies so they could
enslave them or eat them. The king of Texcoco warned Moctezuma that
his empire would shortly be overthrown.
On the way to Tenochtitlán, the Spanish set up altars and held
religious services for they were devout Christians who had religion as
one of their primary motivations. They founded towns, usually on the
sites of Amerind towns. Before he reached Cholula, a holy Amerind
market town, he learned that Moctezuma planned an ambush there.
Cortez pulled off his own ambush, sacking the town on a crowded
market day. The Spanish then built the city of Puebla nearby.
The Spanish, who appeared invincible, entered Tenochtitlán, the
island city of some 300,000 people, as the guest of Moctezuma. His
soldiers explored the city. The meeting of the Spanish and the Aztec
was a very serious culture clash. The Spanish were horrified at the
Aztec religion with its polytheism, ritual executions, and cannibalism.
They captured Moctezuma and were safe as long as he was their
Meanwhile, Pánfilo de Narváez expedition had been sent by
Velásquez to arrest Cortez and assume control. Cortez went to the
coast, leaving Pedro de Alvarado in charge in Tenochtitlán. Cortez
convinced the 900 men in the Narváez expedition to join him and
returned to Tenochtitlán with these reinforcements.
While he had been gone, Pedro de Alvarado, appalled by the
human sacrifice, lost his nerve and attacked the populace. Both
noblemen and religious men were killed. Cortés arrived in the midst of
this and the Aztec allowed Cortez and the reinforcements to cross the
causeways into the city. The Spanish conquistadores became prisoners
in the palace, secure only because they had Moctezuma. Cortez got
Moctezuma to appeal from the top of the roof but he was stoned to
death. The Aztecs rallied around Cuauhtémoc, who began planning the
destruction of the Spanish.
On June 30, 1520 (La Noche Triste), Cortez and his men
began their retreat to Tlaxcala. They had to fight their way off
Tenochtitlán, crossing the Tacuba causeway. They were carrying what
gold and other loot they had acquired, which made the retreat even
more difficult. The Aztecs killed some 900 Spaniards and almost all of
their Amerind allies. The survivors rushed to Tlaxcala, where,
surprisingly, they were aided by the Tlaxcalans.
Perhaps a lesser man would have given up but not Cortez; he
began planning a counterattack. He rested his men; received
reinforcements, horses, and supplies from Cuba; and reorganized his
army. He decided that he needed a navy to aid in the attack of the
island city, so he sent ships' carpenters to the coast to retrieve the tackle
he had saved. On the banks of the lake in which Tenochtitlán sat, they
In 1521, the fight began. The brigantines blockaded the city,
creating starvation and problems of waste disposal, for the city was fed
from the shore and sent its wastes ashore as well. The Aztecs were
reduced to starvation. Worse, epidemic disease killed many of the
defenders and weakened many of the rest before the Spanish launched
their attack. Still, it took two months of hand-to-hand fighting and the
block-by-block destruction of the city before the Spanish won. When
they caught Cuauhtémoc, they strangled him. The city was leveled.
After the fall of Tenochtitlán, the Aztecs and their subject
people no longer fought. Cortez was recognized as a god. He had
defeated the greatest power in the world, at least from a central
Mexican perspective. He did have to fight frontier wars against the
chichimecas, the term given by the Aztec to the nomadic people north
of central Mexico but the Aztecs did not know that.
Cortez promoted intermarriage between Spaniards and the
Aztec mobility in an effort to mitigate differences. Of course, conquering
soldiers were given "companionship" by Amerind women, for they had
shown that they were more manly than the Aztec soldiers; after all, they
had won. Some conquistadores raped as soldiers have always done.
Cortez gave Marina (or Malinche), the mother of his son, to Pedro de
Alvarado. Cortez built the Ciudad de Mexico on the ruins of
Tenochtitlán. He became one of the richest men in the world.
He reluctantly permitted the developing colonial system and
royal authority to replace his personal control. He explored the Gulf of
California and Honduras. He went to Spain to try to increase his
rewards but was disappointed. He died in Seville in 1547. His sons did
not do well because they foolishly talked of revolt.
This expedition and the others were "private enterprise." The
Spanish Crown was always in financial difficulty. It gave legal rights to
private individuals to explore and conquer. When the conquistador
found something valuable, he was rewarded. Cortez was made Marquis
of Oaxaca and granted extensive lands and Amerinds by the Crown.
The Crown usually modified the contracts after the discoveries and
conquests. Crown allowed the conquerors material benefits from their
conquests but reduced their political power. Because Velásquez would
not be there, he got nothing. Of those who were in the conquest of
Mexico, they were rewarded depending upon how much they had
contributed (or, at least, how much were able to convince people) and
on social rank. Gentlemen received more than commoners, for example.
The conquest was rapid in central and southern Mexico. The
conquest to the north of central Mexico was slower because the
Amerinds there resisted and the terrain and climate was more difficult.
However, they conquered and held those areas where they found
precious metals. The initial conquest and pacification of the Amerinds in
the north was through the mission and presidio (frontier fort) system.
They did not have rivals, either other Spaniards or other Europeans, for
a long time. Upper California to Texas were buffer areas. There was
not much there. South of central Mexico they had competition for
jurisdiction from other Spaniards. Pedrarias and others tried to claim
Mexico. The Yucatán conquest was in difficult territory against a very
stubborn population. The peninsula tended to be peripheral so they did
not put much effort there.
Guatemala City was founded in 1524 by Pedro de Alvarado
(Cortez had encouraged him to leave central Mexico). Guatemala had
settled Amerinds who were accustomed to working under direction. In
other words, the Spanish found a labor force. Guatemala was made a
captaincy-general. Although technically the officials there had to report
to the viceroy in Mexico City, the captaincy-general was virtually
Spanish America, where the Spaniards lived as opposed to the
Amerinds, was a series of loose connections between urban centers.
boundaries usually passed through thinly populated areas. There was
tremendous concentration of all kinds of power in the capitals.
It was the success of the Cortez expedition that set off the
excitement about the New World. Cortez had found what any 16th
century European would have wanted: wealth and a docile labor force.
Some of Cortez' men sought their fortunes elsewhere. Juan
Ponce de León and Pánfilo de Narváez explored Florida. Of the
Narváez party, only four survived. These, led by Alvar Nuñez Cabeza
de Vaca, traveled for eight years along the gulf coast and then through
the interior until they found other Spaniards in northern Mexico and
finally reached Mexico City. They discovered nothing anyone at the
time would consider valuable. Hernando de Soto with 600 men
explored what is now the central United States and died in 1541; his
party also discovered nothing Europeans would consider valuable.
Alvarado went to Guatemala in the 1530s and joined Pizarro in Peru in
1534 but he was overshadowed by the Pizarro's and the Almagros.
Conquest of Peru
Francisco Pizarro first came to the New World with the Ojeda
expedition and then joined Balboa in Panama in 1519. Pizarro was over
50 when he got to Peru. Born in Estremadura in the 1470s, he was the
bastard child of a poor gentlemen. He spent time as an illiterate
swineherd and then became a soldier. He went to Cuba as a soldier;
made his way to Panama; and joined the Balboa expedition to the
Pacific. He had persistence and courage.
He became one of the old Indies hands, many of whom were
constantly forming and re-forming partnerships to explore and conquer.
His partners were Hernando de Luque, a priest, who handed the
finances, Diego de Almagro, who was illiterate, uncouth, energetic and
extroverted, and Pedrarias. They made a pact in 1522 amidst rumors of
a Peruvian empire. Pizarro and Almagro explored down the west coast
of South America until Ecuador but found nothing they considered
On his second expedition to the south (1524-28), they found
artifacts that showed evidence of higher cultures. At Guayaquil, Pizarro
refused the order to return to Panama. He drew a line in the sand and
asked for volunteers to continue. Only thirteen did. For eight months
they explored until they were found by a ship sent to bring them home.
Pizarro persuaded the captain to explore for a few more days. They
found a small boat carrying four beautifully dressed Amerinds from
Túmbez. With that, Pizarro was able to persuade the group to continue.
They found even more evidence of wealth. They took some Amerinds
on board and headed back to Panama. The governor would not listen
so Pizarro went to Spain to plea with the king to allow them to proceed.
He was to represent all the partners, or so they thought.
Pizarro returned from Spain with a royal grant after presenting
the king with treasure he had brought from northern Peru. He was given
the titles of Captain-General, Adelantado, and Governor/Alguacil
Mayor of Peru for life with his salary to be taken from his conquests.
His partners got much less. Almagro, for example, was only made
governor of Túmbez. They were angry, Almagro especially so.
Almagro's anger played an important role in the early history of Spanish
With four brothers and a cousin, he returned to Panama in 1530
and assembled a small expedition. By 1531, the 166 men and about
twenty-five horses headed south, stopping at Túmbez. After subduing
the local population, he learned of the civil war for the title of Inca and
that Atahualpa was defeating his brother Huascar. He also received
reinforcements, led by Hernando de Soto, from Nicaragua. Pizarro
founded a town, which then granted him more authority. In November
1532, Pizarro led his small band south to Cajamarca, where Atahualpa
and his army of 40,000 were encamped.
The mighty Atahualpa did not realize how very dangerous the
Spaniards were; his religion no doubt conditioned him to believe that
everyone was inferior except his immediate family. Besides, Pizarro had
been sending friendly messages saying how he and his men were coming
to visit the great Atahualpa. He understood that his only hope was to
capture Atahualpa. He stationed soldiers around the plaza and he
invited Atahualpa to dine. A priest stepped forward with a Bible and
asked the Inca to swear allegiance to the true faith, Christianity.
Atahualpa drew back, accidentally knocking the book to the ground.
The Spanish soldiers then seized him. The royal guards were
Atahualpa tried to ransom himself with gold. The Amerinds had
learned that the Spanish had the disease of gold lust. His people
scoured the empire to find enough goal to fill a room. Meanwhile, the
Spanish were looting as much as they could. When the Inca's followers
had fulfilled Pizarro's ransom demands, Pizarro had him executed by
strangulation. Faced with being burned at the stake, Atahualpa had
converted to Christianity to avoid that fate.
Pizarro, reinforced by additional men, set out for Cuzco, the
capital, in November, 1533. They fought, captured hostages, tortured
when necessary to gain more information, had sex with women (by
consent or by force), and took what they wanted. He founded Lima in
1535. In 1536-37, Manoc Capac, a puppet Inca, tried to overthrow
Pizarro but failed. This was the last serious threat to the Spaniards.
Why was the Pizarro expedition successful? Historians
disagree, of course, but certainly the following factors were important:
1. The fierceness and determination of the Spaniards.
They were very egotistical and much more
individualistic than the Indians. They were most
reluctant to "give up the ghost." As invaders in hostile
country, the Spanish could not afford to lose or quit.
2. The Spaniards had better military tactics and weapons.
The technology of Spanish weapons was vastly
superior. The horse was an important weapon. In this
instance, the horse was much like a tank, difficult for
infantry to counter.
3. The Inca could not conceive that a relatively small band
of inferior beings could be such a threat.
4. The Spanish had millions of allies in the form of deadly
microbes to which the natives had little resistance. Long
before Pizarro entered Peru, fatal contagious diseases,
brought from Spain, had been killing the natives. It was
a much weakened and somewhat confused population
that the Spaniards conquered. Once Pizarro and his
men arrived in Peru, disease spread even faster.
5. The civil war between Huascar and Atahualpa
preoccupied the Indian elite. The Spaniards immediately
exploited these divisions even before they reached
6. The Indians were confused as to who and what the
7. Capturing Atahualpa was a brilliant move, for it not only
gave the Spaniards safety but allowed them months to
gather intelligence. Killing him threw the entire Indian
command structure into chaos.
The Spanish founded Lima on the coast in order to have easy
communication with Spain. If worse came to worse, they could flee the
highlands and use Lima as a redoubt. Lima became the very Spanish
city whose upper class lorded it over the highland population.
Quito was the most recently addition to the Inca empire and,
therefore, was easier to conquer. Pedro de Alvarado came from
Guatemala with an expedition but was bought off. Almagro, in
1535-37, mounted an expedition to Chile and found two things: it was
hard to get to and the Araucanian Indians fiercely resisted. He came
back to Peru, determined to get his fair share. Pedro de Valdivia,
commissioned by Pizarro, began the conquest of Chile in 1540.
As they conquered, the Spanish created town governments to
give themselves authority and tried to replicate Spanish life as much as
they could. They used 16th century town planning with a central square
and a rectilinear layout. Sited a church and a cemetery. Had a cabildo
hall for town government. Granted town lands based on rank. The
towns immediately began functions such as roads and Indian control.
Political Situation in Peru in Early Times
In 1541, Almagro seized Cuzco, the Inca capital, claiming that
it was his and civil war ensued between the Almagrists and Pizarrists.
Almagro's faction lost the final battle in 1538. The Indians must have
loved seeing the Spanish fighting each other! The Pizarrists executed
Almagro and Pizarro confiscated the loser's property and Indians and
gave them to his own followers. Pizarro was assassinated in 1541 by
Diego de Almagro the Younger and other "Men of Chile." Naturally,
another civil was occurred in 1541-1542. The Crown had sent an
envoy, Vaca de Castro, to investigate; when he reached south of
Popayán, he was met by Sebastián de Belacázar, a lieutenant of
Pizarro, who proclaimed loyalty to the Crown. The now royal force
defeated Almagro's army in September 1542. Almagro the Younger
was executed. Gonzalo Pizarro, brother of the conquistador, was
initially bought off but events prompted him to rise up against royal
authority. Gonzalo wreaked havoc, even going to Panama and
executing officials, before he was finally defeated and executed in
The Crown sent Antonio Mendoza from Mexico as a viceroy
and, although he died within a year and the audiencia ruled, the Crown
had established its authority. Viceroy Francisco de Toledo served in
Peru from 1569-81. Toledo was one of the great administrators of
human times. He found an almost impossible situation in Peru and made
it possible. He spent whole five years on a visit and had a rough time of
it. But he helped solidify royal rule. The Spanish Crown was clever in
the way they handled colonists. They yielded to some demands in order
to get obedience and, over time, took back what it had yielded.
The Early Empire
The Spanish explored North America (north to Kansas and
Colorado, west to California, east to South Carolina, and south to
Panama) and all of South America in less than 75 years. The
exploration enabled the Spanish to identify the existing resources and
concentrate what they wanted. They found little of interest in the Great
Plains or Costa Rica so they put no energy and resources there. On the
other hand, central Mexico and highland Peru were worth the effort.
Like most 16th century Europeans, the Spanish wanted precious metals
and people to work for them. Thus, the pattern of conquest also
established the settlement patterns.
! Spain took Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola to
control the entrances to the Caribbean and the Gulf of
! It settled Darién and Panama City to control the
Isthmus of Panama.
! It established Cartegena on the north coast of Colombia
as a Caribbean fort.
! Took assorted Caribbean islands as needed.
! Established Veracruz as the chief port of New Spain.
! Established Puebla on the route to Mexico City.
! Built Mexico City on the ruins of Tenochtitlán.
! Spread into central Mexico and westward to found
! The conquest of northern Mexico (San Luis Potosí
northwards) was slower because of the fierce nomadic
Amerinds, except for important mining areas such as
! Moved into California and Texas in the 18th century
after LaSalle's explorations in 1683.
! Movement into Oaxaca and the Yucatán was slow.
Guatemala was settled by the Spanish quickly, for there were
plenty of sedentary people to put to work. Most of Central America
was sparsely populated and contained few precious metals, so Spain
put little into it.
! Peru settled by Pizarro, Almagro, and company. The
civil war slowed the process for a generation. Peru had
valuable mines and a very large sedentary population. It
was the most important Spanish South American
! Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile were sparsely settled by the
! Colombia and Venezuela were important because they
bordered the Caribbean and pearls were obtained in
Venezuela. There was also some cattle raised and sold
! Argentina was a backwater until the later 18th century.
The rationale of the settlement pattern:
! They took the areas where they found precious metals
such as gold and silver.
! They took control of sedentary Amerinds who were
accustomed to working under direction.
! Spaniards established tropical plantations to grow
sugar, tobacco, and cotton.
! Spaniards established places from which they could
supply towns, routes, and mines with food, mules,
donkeys, and other supplies.
! They expanded into areas as a defensive measure,
particularly in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The Spanish were town dwellers. They established towns
immediately and laid them out with the latest avant garde town planning
and architecture., using town squares. They segregated the Amerinds
into neighborhoods different from their own except, of course, for the
live-in servants. Some towns were both Indian and Spanish, such as
Mexico City and Cuzco, whereas others, such as Puebla and Lima,
were overwhelmingly Spanish. Whenever possible, they sought access
to the sea.
The settlement patterns of the conquest period established the
pattern for the colonial period. After that, it was a matter of "filling in"
to meet needs.
Early Attempts to Organize an Empire
The Crown first used adelantados (military officials) and some
gobernadores (governors). The Spanish formed cabildos (town
councils) which had jurisdiction not only over urban areas but the
surrounding countryside. The cabildo could appoint gobernadores and
The high court or audiencia was introduced into the New World
at Santo Domingo in 1511. Used successfully in Spain, the Crown
hoped its use in the New World would bring needed law and order to
The Crown faced the problem of dealing with ambitious men.
Conquistadores believed that the Crown owed them titles and property
for the sacrifices they had made. If there was any way a man could
claim to be a conquistador, he did, for therein lay fortune. There was
tremendous rivalry among them and between them and later officials.
Greed existed then, too.
In New Spain (Mexico), the first audiencia (1528-30) with
Gonzalo Nuño de Guzmán as president ruled with such cruelty and
high-handedness (confiscating some of the encomiendas that Cortez had
distributed) that it aroused the wrath of honest citizens and stirred the
clergy led by Bishop Zumárraga. The bishop excommunicated him and
the audiencia in 1529. Not fazed by this, he explored Michoacán,
Jalisco, and Sinaloa. Although he ruled as a governor in western
Mexico, the Crown finally learned of his crimes, had him tried in
Mexico City, and then shipped him to Spain. The second audiencia
(1530-35) was run by clergymen but they were unable to control
Cortez other than to forbid him from entering Mexico City. The
conquistadores continued to engage in disputes with royal authorities
and each other. The Crown sent Antonio de Mendoza to New Spain as
the first viceroy. For the next fifteen years, Mendoza, a member of one
of the great Spanish families, brought peace, order, and regularity to the
In Peru, the early days of the empire were much more
problematic for the conquistadores engaged in civil war. Throughout the
1530s and 1540s, the Pizarro and Almagro factions cut each other up.
The Crown sent Mendoza to Peru in 1551 but he died with a year.
Although the audiencia made progress in establishing royal authority, it
was Viceroy Francisco de Toledo who served from 1569-1581 who
consolidated royal authority and Spanish dominance in the viceroyalty.
He was the author of the colonial system in Peru, much of which was
used elsewhere in the Spanish colonies.
The Crown faced other fractious vassals as this celebrated letter
from the rebel Lope de Aguirre show:
Letter from Lope de Aguirre, rebel, to King Philip
of Spain, 1561.
To King Philip, the Spaniard, son of Charles the
Invincible: From Lope de Aguirre, your lesser
vassal, old Christian, of middling parents but
fortunately of noble blood, native of the Basque
country of the kingdom of Spain, citizen of the
town of Onate.
In my youth I crossed the sea to the land of Peru
to gain fame, lance in hand, and to fulfill the
obligation of all good men. In 24 years I have done
you great service in Peru, in conquests of the
Indians, in founding towns, and especially in battles
and encounters fought in your name, always to the
best of my power and ability, without requesting of
your officials pay nor assistance, as can be seen in
your royal records.
I firmly believe, most excellent King and lord,
that to me and my companions you have been
nothing but cruel and ungrateful. I also believe that
those who write to you from this land deceive you,
because of the great distance.
I demand of you, King, that you do justice and
right by the good vassals you have in this land,
even though I and my companions (whose names I
will give later), unable to suffer further the cruelties
of your judges, viceroy, and governors, have
resolved to obey you no longer. Denaturalizing
ourselves from our land, Spain, we make the most
cruel war against you that our power can sustain
and endure. Believe, King and lord, we have done
this because we can no longer tolerate the great
oppression and unjust punishments of your
ministers who, to make places for their sons and
dependents have usurped and robbed our fame,
life, and honor. It is a pity, King, the bad treatment
you have given us.
I am lame in the right leg from the arquebus
wounds I received in the battle of Chuquinga,
fighting with Marshall Alonzo de Alvarado,
answering your call against Francisco Hernández
Giron, rebel from your service as I and my
companions are presently and will be until death,
because we in this land now know how cruel you
are, how you break your faith and your word, and
thus we in this land give your promises less
credence than to the books of Martin Luther.
Your viceroy the marquis of Canete hanged
Martín de Robles, a man distinguished in your
service; and the brave Tomás Vásquez,
conquistador of Peru; and the ill fated Alonso Días,
who worked more in the discoveries of this
kingdom than the scouts of Moses in the desert;
and Piedrahita, a good captain who fought many
battles in your service. In Pucara they gave you
victory, and if they had not, Francisco Hernández
would now be the king of Peru. Do not give much
credence to the claims your judges make of
services performed, because it is a great myth,
unless they call having spent 800,000 pesos of
your royal treasury for their vices and evil deeds, a
service. Punish them as evildoers, as such they
Look here, King of Spain! Do not be cruel and
ungrateful to your vassals, because while your
father and you stayed in Spain without the slightest
bother, your vassals, at the price of their blood and
fortune, have given you all the kingdoms and
holding you have in these parts. Beware, King and
lord, that you cannot take, under the title of
legitimate king, any benefit from this land where
you risked nothing, without first giving due
gratification to those who have labored and
sweated in it.
I am certain there are few kings in hell because
there are few kings, but if there were many none
would go to heaven. Even in hell you would be
worse than Lucifer, because you all thirst after
human blood. But I do not marvel nor make much
of you. For certain, I and my 200
arquebus-bearing maranones, conquistadores and
noble, swear solemnly to God that we will not
leave a minister of yours alive, because I already
know how far your clemency reaches. Today we
consider ourselves the luckiest men alive, because
we are in these parts of the Indies, with faith in
God's commandments full and uncorrupted as
Christians, maintaining all that is preached by the
holy mother church of Rome, and we intend,
though sinners in life, to achieve martyrdom through
Upon leaving the Amazon river, called the
Maranón, on an island inhabited by Christians
called Margarita, I saw some reports from Spain
regarding the great schism of Lutherans there,
which caused us to be frightened and surprised. In
our company there was a German named
Monteverde, and I ordered him cut to pieces.
Destiny rewards the prudent. Believe this, excellent
Prince: Wherever we are we ensure that all live
perfectly in the Christian faith.
The dissolution of the priests is so great in these
parts that I think it would be well that they feel your
wrath and punishment, because there is now none
among them who sees himself as less than
governor. Look here, King, do not believe what
they might tell you, because the tears that they shed
before your royal person is so that they can come
here to command. If you want to know the life they
lead here, it is to deal in merchandise, seek and
acquire temporal goods, and sell the Sacraments of
the Church for a price. They are enemies of the
poor, uncharitable, ambitious, gluttonous, and
arrogant, so that even the lowest of the priests tries
to command and govern all these lands. Correct
this, King and lord, because from these things and
bad examples faith is not impressed upon the
natives. Furthermore, if this dissolution of the
priests is not stopped, there will be no shortage of
If I and my companions, by the correct position
we have taken, are determined to die, for this and
for other things that have happened, singular King,
you are to blame, for not duly considering the labor
of your vassals and for not thinking of what you
owe them. If you do not look out for your vassals,
and your judges do not take care of this, you
certainly will fail in government. Certainly there is
no need to present witnesses, but simply to point
out that each of your judges has 4,000 pesos of
salary, 8,000 pesos in expenses, and after three
years in office each has 60,000 pesos saved, along
with properties and possessions! Despite all this
we would be willing to serve them as we do,
except that for our sins they want us to drop to our
knees wherever we are and worship them like
Nebuchadnezzar. This is insufferable. Just because
I am an unfortunate man made lame in your service
(and my companions long and weary in the same) I
should not fail to advise you never to trust your
conscience to these learned persons. It is in your
royal interest to watch out for them, as they spend
all their time planning the marriages of their
children, and care for nothing else. The common
refrain among them is: "To the left and to the right, I
possess all in my sight."
The friars do not want to bury poor Indians, and
they are lodged in the best estates in Peru. The life
they lead is bitter and burdensome, as each one
has as a penance a dozen young women in his
kitchen, and as many boys engaged in fishing,
hunting partridges, and bringing fruit! They get a
share of everything. In Christian faith I swear, King
and lord, that if you do not remedy the evils of this
land, divine punishment will come upon you. I tell
you this to let you know the truth, even though I
and mine neither expect nor want mercy from you.
Oh, how sad that a great Caesar and Emperor,
your father, should conquer with the power of
Spain the great Germany, and should spend so
much money from these Indies discovered by us,
and that you should not concern yourself with our
old age and weariness enough to provide for our
You know that we know in these parts,
excellent King and lord, that you conquered
Germany with arms, and Germany has conquered
Spain with vices. We over here are happier with
just corn and water, to be removed from such a
bad irony, Let those who suffer such an irony keep
their reward. Let wars spread where they may, and
where men take them. Never, no matter what
adversity might come upon us, will we cease to be
subject to the teachings of the Holy Mother Church
We cannot believe, excellent King and lord, that
you would be so cruel to such good vassals as you
have in these parts. Your judges must be acting this
way without your consent. I say this, excellent
King, because two leagues from the city of Kings
[Lima], there was discovered near the sea a lake
where there were some fish God permitted to exist
there. Your evil judges and officials, to profit from
the fish for their pleasures and vices, leased them in
your name, giving us to understand, as though we
were fools, that this was done by your will. If this is
so, master, let us catch some of the fish, because
we worked to discover it, and because the King of
Castile has no need for the 400 pesos they leased
it for. Illustrious King, we do not ask for grants in
Cordoba or Valladolid, nor in any part of Spain,
which is your patrimony. Deign to feed the weary
and poor with the fruits and proceeds from this
land. Remember, King and lord, that God is the
same for all, and the same justice, reward, heaven,
In the year 1559 the marquis of Canete
entrusted the expedition of the river of the
Amazons to Pedro de Ursua, Navarrese, or rather,
a Frenchman. He delayed the building of the boats
until the year 1560 in the province of the
Motilones, in Peru. The Indians are called
Motilones because they wear their head shaved.
These boats were made in the wet country, and
upon launching most of them came to pieces. We
made rafts, left the horses and supplies, and took
off down the river at great risk to our persons. We
then encountered the most powerful rivers of Peru,
and it seemed to us to be a fresh water sea. We
traveled 300 leagues from the point of launching.
This bad governor was so perverse and vicious
and miserable that we could not tolerate it, and it
was impossible to put up with his evil ways. Since I
have a stake in the matter, excellent King and lord,
I will say only that we killed him; certainly a very
serious thing. We then raised a young gentleman of
Seville named Don Fernando de Gúzman to be our
king, and we made an oath to him as such, as your
royal person will see from the signatures of all
those who were in this, who remain in the island of
Margarita, in these Indies. They appointed me their
field commander, and because I did not consent to
their insults and evil deeds they tried to kill me, and
I killed the new king, the captain of his guard, the
lieutenant-general, his majordomo, his chaplain, a
woman in league against me, a knight of Rhodes,
an admiral, two ensigns, and six other of his allies.
It was my intention to carry this war through and
die in it, for the cruelties your ministers practice on
us, and I again appointed captains and a sergeant
major. They tried to kill me, and I hung them all.
We went along our route down the Maranón
river while all these killings and bad events were
taking place. It took us ten and a half months to
reach the mouth of the river, where it enters the
sea. We traveled a good hundred days, and
traveled 1,500 leagues. It is a large and fearsome
river, with 80 leagues of fresh water at the mouth.
It is very deep, and for 800 leagues along its banks
it is deserted, with no towns, as your majesty will
see from the true report we have made. Along the
route we took there are more than 6,000 islands.
God only knows how we escaped from such a
fearsome lake! I advise you, King and lord, not to
attempt nor allow a fleet to be sent to this ill-fated
river, because in Christian faith I swear, King and
lord, that if a hundred thousand men come none
will escape, because the stories are false and in this
river there is nothing but despair, especially for
those newly arrive from Spain.
The captains and officers with me at present,
and who promise to die in this demand like pitiful
men are: Juan Jerónimo de Espinola Ginoves,
admiral; Juan Gómez, Cristobal García, captain of
infantry, both Andaluz; mounted captain Diego
Tirado, Andaluz, from whom your judges, King
and lord, with great injury, took Indians he had
earned with his lance; captain of my guard Roberto
de Sosaya and his ensign Nuflo Hernández,
Valencian; Juan López de Ayala, from Cuenca, our
paymaster; general ensign Blas Gutiérrez,
conquistador for 27 years; Juan Ponce, ensign,
native of Seville; Custodio Hernández, ensign,
Portuguese; Diego de Torres, ensign, Navarre;
sergeant Pedro Gutierrez Viso and Diego de
Figueroa; Cristobal de Rivas, conquistador, Pedro
de Rojas, Andaluz; Juan de Saucedo, mounted
ensign; Bartolome Sanchez Paniagua, our lawyer;
Diego Sanchez Bilbao, supply; García Navarro,
inspector general, and many other hidalgos of this
league. We pray to God our Lord that your fortune
ever be increased against the Turk and the
Frenchman, and all others who wish to make war
on you in those parts. In these, God grant that we
might obtain with our arms the reward by right due
us, but which you have denied.
Son of your loyal Basque vassals, and I, rebel until
death against you for your ingratitude.
Lope de Aguirre, the Wanderer
Translation by Tom Holloway from the version
published in A. Arellano Moreno (org.),
Documentos para la historia económica de
Venezuela (Caracas, Universidad Central, 1961).
Another source of controversy was caused by Bartolomé de
Las Casas. He was a conquistador and a Dominican monk. He did well
in the New World, growing wealthy. But in 1514, at the age of forty,
he became upset at the treatment of the Indians and their death rate. He
gave up his repartimiento of Indians and went to Spain in 1515. He
campaigned against the bad treatment of Indians until his death in 1566,
when he was more than ninety years old. He became a Dominican in
Las Casas was sent from Spain to Española with Hieronymite
friars who were to govern the colony. Las Casas soon began protesting
the fact that the friars listened to the colonists regarding the Indians, the
very people who were abusing them. He had to take refuge in the
Dominican monastery. He went back to Spain in 1517 where he
continued his lobbying campaign for three years. As a result, the Crown
did accept principle of Las Casas that Indians were human and could
be Christianized and that it was improper to enslave them or hurt them.
The decision that Indians could not be enslaved important. There had
been arguments back and forth. The actual conditions of the Indians
varied a great deal. As a result of the slave decision, they had some
legal recourse. It meant something in slowing down the abuse of the
Indians. It meant that the Church had some legal basis with which to
protect the Indians. However, the Indians did not enjoy actual
The upper class did not listen to Las Casas. They hated what he
was trying to do. They were trying to establish status and families,
exploiting the Indians to do it. They believed that what they were doing
was right, proper, and necessary. The Spanish used the Church to
control the Indians, using it as an adjunct to other powers and bodies.
Las Casas was a thorn in the sides of both the Crown and the church.
He argued that the Spanish should attempt to pacify the Indians
without killing them. He tried this policy in central America in the late
1530s but the upper class was not interested. He became bishop of
Chiapas (now in Mexico) in 1543, countered the wishes of the Spanish,
and was back in Spain by 1547.
Las Casas wrote A Brief Account of the Destruction of the
Indies, a polemical and not entirely truthful work, trying to prove that
the reason the Indians were dying in such extraordinary numbers was
because of Spanish mistreatment. He argued that Spanish peasants
should be imported to do the work but he could not keep the ones he
imported on the land. They, too, wanted to raise their status. The older
upper class wanted these people to be part of the upper minority elite
that ran the colonies. The whole enterprise in Venezuela in 1520-1521
with Spanish peasants who were supposed the Christianize the Indians
Las Casas put pressure on the Crown and the New Laws
(1542) were partly the result of his work. The purpose of the New
Laws was to extinguish the encomienda system. However, it could not
be applied. Royal officials in the colonies said "obezco pero no cumplo"
(I obey your order but I am not going to carry it out).
Las Casas’ efforts helped give rise to the Black Legend about
Spain, that the Spanish were unusually cruel. The term was invented in
1900 by a Spaniard to describe foreign, especially Anglo and
American, attitudes toward Spain. Hispanic people felt threatened by
non-Hispanic people. In part, this was caused by the Spanish
American War of 1898, but it was more the result of the intrusion of
modern economy and politics into Spain.
The Spanish Colonial System
The governing system always faced the following problems. The
distance between Spain and the New World encouraged the evasion of
orders. The ordinary problems of human ambition came into play; the
colonists often thwarted the Crown. The wealth of some parts of the
empire meant that many people were trying to get wealth and cared little
for the empire.
1. There were differences among colonies as to wealth. New
Spain was wealthy whereas Paraguay was poor, for example.
2. The Crown enterprise in Spanish America was huge and
spent a lot of money.
3. There were restrictions in terms of office; the Crown did
not like to keep people in office too long. It wanted to keep
officials from getting too embedded in local areas.
4. The Spanish mixed legislative, judicial, and executive
functions. There was no thought of the separation of power.
5. The Crown tried to keep the ultimate authority in Spain,
e.g. the use of the residencia. Spain was the court of last
appeal. The Crown encouraged direct communication from
colonists, making a great virtue out of this. It encouraged
American officials to spy on each other. Some did.
6. The Crown gave a very large degree of independence to
revenue officials such as the assayer, accountant, and
treasurer. The Viceroy could not really control the royal
7. The system had numerous guarantees against "Americanism."
It used peninsulares (Spaniards born in Spain) as opposed to
criollos (Spaniards born in a colony) in the great offices.
Peninsulares were in the majority in inferior offices too. The
Crown assumed that the peninsulares were intrinsically more
8. Spain had the alliance of ecclesiastical and civil
administrations which was characteristic of the modern national
dynastic state. The monarchs got control of the church through
the patronado, which gave them control of major appointments
of church officials and control over Church revenues. The
Crown used this power to bolster its own authority. The Church
did tremendous amount to help civil administration control this
vast area. It demanded obedience to authority. It pacified the
9. The system practiced thought control, asserting homogeneity
in religious and civil matters.
10. Spain used mercantilism for its economic policy.
Mercantilism was based on the belief that only precious metals
(principally gold and silver) were wealth and, thus, the way to
increase wealth was to acquire more precious metals through
warfare, theft, and trade. In trade, the ideal was to supply one's
own needs and wants from within a one’s own closed system
while selling goods to others outside that system.
11. It was policy to control the conquistadores. The Crown
took take most of their political power while leaving them
economic power. The claim of being a conquistador was
recognized by the king as reason for favors but the Crown
would not allow rivals to its power.
12. The whole system of control was held together by
paperwork, documentary cement, a veritable flood of
documents. There was too much to keep track of and a
tremendous amount of lying.
Ways to Categorize the System
1. The political-military system. This included administration,
courts, officialdom, the tax system, and the militia.
2. The economic system. It was part of the whole system of
control. It was part of the way to hold the empire together, to
favor Spain and the upper classes. The economic system
enormously reduced the ability of the lower classes to attack the
3. The ecclesiastical system.
4. The social system. This was part of the others. It included
the system of noble titles, legal class divisions, censorship, and
the educational system.
The role of criollos was very restricted. In the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, this was not as important an issue for criollos as it
would become after the middle of the eighteenth century.
All of the European settled areas were governed by these
institutions. There are examples of illegal institutions such as the King of
the Mosquitoes and Palmares in Brazil but these are unusual. Castas
(non-European people, either mixed or non-mixed) were excluded from
government service except for a few town councils or cabildos.
Caciques (Indian leaders) did serve on occasion.
The great changes in European philosophy of the 17th and the
18th centuries did not affect the Spanish world much. The eighteenth
century Enlightenment heard a little bit more lightly in America but not
until after 1750. Colonial ideas were conservative except, where, they
met unknown situations such as the how to deal with Indians.
Casa de Contratación (House of Trade), 1503-1790
Its purpose was the foster and regulate trade and navigation. It
operated in Sevilla until 1717 when it was moved to the coastal city of
The Casa created the consulado (merchants' guild) in Sevilla
which had the exclusive right to trade with the New World. The
consulado had extensive economic and judicial duties concerning
overseas trade. Consulados were created in Mexico and Peru as the
other end of the system. The Spanish believed in the efficacy of
monopoly, a belief stemming from their desire to control.
The Casa's duties included:
1. licensing and regulating shipping and emigration,
2. providing training in geography, pilotage, and
3. creating and maintaining records and research,
4. collecting some taxes and tariffs,
5. handling royal revenues shipped from America,
6. making judgments on matters arising from trade and
7. assisting with overseas communication, and
8. supervising the convoy system (flota) that was operated
for 200 years.
It gradually lost its powers in the 18th century. Some of its
powers were transferred to the new Ministry of Marine and the Indies.
The restriction on which ports could be used was ended beginning in
1763. The Casa was abolished in 1790.
Council of the Indies (Real y Supremo Consejo de las Indias)
Founded in 1524, the Consejo had all kinds of functions. It was
subdivided into chambers to deal with specialized problems. For 200
years, the Casa and the Consejo were the chief Spanish governmental
institutions for the colonies. Others had some power in the 18th century.
It duties included:
1. proposing top officials,
2. confirming minor officials appointed by colonials,
3. corresponding with (1) officials (2) important people,
which it did quite a lot,
4. sending investigating officers,
5. verifying the accounts of royal officials,
6. debating ways to increase Crown revenue,
7. serving as the final board of appeal,
8. exercising original jurisdiction in cases of large
9. sending and reviewing residencias, and
10. passing legislation.
It lasted approximately 200 years and had a fluctuating
membership of six to ten councilors plus numerous lower officials. In
1714, it was reorganized and then replaced by a minister in the latter
part of the 18th century.
Both the Casa and the Consejo were in Spain. Together with
the king, they made sure that the colonies existed to serve Spain.
In Spanish America, there were many government officials.
Some, such as the adelantado (a military official), were important only
during the Conquest. Others were more enduring. All followed the
principle of "Obedezco pero no cumplo," or I obey but I do not carry
out, for everyone understood how very far it was between Spain and
the New World and circumstances could have changed since the
Crown had been given the information upon which it based an order. It
was imperative that royal authority always be acknowledged, especially
since the Crown only sent powerful men to represent it in the New
World, men who might develop ambitions of their own.
The Viceroy was very important, for he stood for the king in the
New World. He was always a man of great consequence in Spain,
holding a socio-economic position fit for a king. When he arrived at his
post, he was given an almost royal welcome with great ceremony at his
entrance to the capital. When he was invested in office, the public
ceremony was akin to a coronation. These ceremonies were very
important as sources of amusement for the populace as well as a means
to impress them and curry favor. The viceroy received a tremendous
salary. The viceroyalty was one of the principal institutions on which the
Crown relied. Once in a while a very good viceroy would serve
elsewhere in America. The first was created for New Spain in 1529
followed by the one for Peru in 1542. In 1717, the Viceroyalty of New
Granada (northern South America) was created in response to other
Europeans trying to take Spanish territory in the Caribbean region. In
1776, the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata, centered in Buenos Aires, was
created to bolster Spanish influence in southern South America. They
served three to eight years.
Within a viceroyalty was the captaincy-general. The
captain-general operated much like a junior viceroy, usually governing a
region distant from the viceregal capital, such as Chile and Guatemala.
The oidores (judges) were the most important officials. They
were important and distinguished people in Spain with legal training and
were people of great consequence and with high salaries in the colonies.
In their powers, there was some overlapping with the viceroy's power,
done by the Crown to create rivalry between the two institutions, a
rivalry it would have to adjudicate.
The audiencia sat as a court of justice, which was its chief
function. As time went by and population grew, it divided into special
courts and added a number of oidores. It could question the actions of
other officials and discipline them. It sent visitas (inspections). It had
legislative authority through the actas acuerdas. It could execute laws.
When it was in a viceregal city, the viceroy was automatically its
president but there was always tension between the audiencia and the
viceroy no matter where the audiencia sat.
He was a lesser royal official within the jurisdictional area of an
audiencia. Some dealt only with Indians, making sure that the Crown
got its share of the tribute. Sometimes the office was called a
gobernador or alcalde mayor. The terms tended to be interchangeable
except that, on occasion, a gobernador ruled a larger territory than did
the corregidor or alcalde mayor, usually more than one town.
Created in the 18th century, he was a high royal official who
was given military and economic power over a large area in order to
increase Crown revenue and defend his jurisdiction against enemies.
The system was a French invention. The Intendant system was started
about 1760, but was not established every place. It constituted tinkering
with system and did not represent fundamental changes. The creation of
the system did indicate recognition of the need for change.
Spain established a presidio or fort in a frontier area either
because the native inhabitants or Europeans were threatening the region.
Presidios did not always have a mission attached. When there were
both, they reinforced each other. They were moved or were
extinguished when the job was done. They played an important role in
protecting the empire.
There were both ecclesiastical and civil cabildos. The
ecclesiastical cabildos were called a chapter. Town life has a long
history in Spain and Portugal. The middle class in medieval times had
gotten concessions, but had lost most power by 1492. The cabildos did
have important functions. The Spanish were townsmen or wanted to be.
When they came to the New World, they laid out towns. A citizen of a
town was a vecino. The class system so well defined that they knew
who deserved to be a vecino, usually all Spaniards. The term did not
mean Indians or Negroes. A person had to be a vecino for the town
council to heed what he said. The alcalde was on the town council but
he is different in having judicial functions.
The cabildo jurisdiction was quite broad and encompassed a
large territory. In geographical scope, it resembled a county in the
United States. The cabildo controlled town lands, common pastures,
and the common woodlock. There was a tremendous amount of
charcoal making in the colonial period so control of the woodlocks was
important. So much wood was cut that the land was denuded, causing
erosion. Cabildos did quite a lot on a local scale. They did not have
many revenue sources, but received quite a bit from animal slaughtering,
taxation, income from town lands, and luxury taxes.
In the very beginning, the conquistador appointed and then
there were elections and then selling of offices and hereditary. Members
of the cabildos were primarily criollos.
Functions of the cabildo included:
1. The erection of public buildings, including cemeteries.
Most of the buildings were situated in a town square, an
innovation in town planning, and were built a
2. The control of municipal processions and ceremonies.
These provided public entertainment and were more
important than they would be today.,
3. Operating a mail service and regulating weights and
measures. The latter was very important for the
opportunity to cheat customers was ever present.
4. Performing police functions.
5. Regulating bullfights and wood cutting, and trying to
deal with rustling. Wood was the basic fuel so that
controlling access to wood lots was very important.
Rustling was a problem which the cabildo could not
prevent but it could try to catch the crooks.
6. The cabildo controlled who owned and who could
carry of guns. In general, only the upper classes had the
right to have guns; they usually were the only people
who could afford them. However, arrieros and other
engaged in transporting freight could carry guns but had
to check them in with the city government when they
came into town.
7. The Spanish used sumptuary laws as a means of control
and ensuring status. Only the upper class could wear
capes, for example. The dress of the lower classes was
regulated to prevent them “putting on airs.”
8. In the late colonial period, the cabildo had to regulate
the cafes which were being created much like the
English coffee houses.
9. Vagrants got to be a terrible burden on the town
budget. The cabildo often dealt with the problem by
encouraging vagrants to go elsewhere, thus shifting the
10. Sometimes cabildo established schools but not often.
11. The towns fought each other with law suits and, on
occasion with force. Each sought to gain some perceived
advantage. Since boundaries were other often vague, who
owned what was a constant question
12. The cabildos sent officials (such as the procurador or
solicitor) to Spain to lobby. Besides trying to get the Crown to
side with them against another cabildo, there were all manner of
favors sought by the cabildos.
The result of their existence was their critical importance in
developing a sense of Americanism and feelings of discrimination. The
cabildo abierto was similar to a town meeting of vecinos and was called
in a variety of ways. It was quite important in the independence period
because it was a means of political action but it was not important
enough to be concerned about before that period.
A visita was the sending of inspectors to check on events and
people. Some were scheduled; some were an unannounced audit. The
result of its work led to change.
When a high official left office, his actions were reviewed by a
residencia, often taking months. The system was designed to prevent
corruption and abuse. However, some of these officials simply stole
more money so they could afford to bribe the residencia.
Generalizations Regarding the Governmental System
1. It lacked provincial assemblies.
2. It did not have federalism experience.
3. It was a highly oligarchic system of government, one for
the upper classes and one for the others.
4. Most people were governed by encomederos or
5. There was a tremendous amount of unpredictability;
one could not be sure how the system was going to
work in terms of how it was set up. There was a
tremendous amount of personalism, which was an
invitation to corruption. In fact, there was enough
corruption that it had its own rules.
6. It practiced discrimination against criollos.
7. The sheer size and vast distances made governance
8. Spain used Amerind institutions when they did not
conflict with Spanish ones.
9. The alliance between the civil and the ecclesiastical
authorities was important.
10. When laws were created, old laws not repealed.
11. It had goal ambiguity and conflicting standards. In the
Spanish world, what you were really doing was giving
power to the lower echelons in government. They had
to decide which rules applied.
The upper class outside of government did a lot more of the
decision making that one might realize. Most people obeyed their
encomendero or hacendado and had little contact with a government
The royal officials (oficiales reales) were treasury officials. They
did not have multiple functions because the Crown wanted them to
focus on getting money. The treasurer lived in the regional capital and
had a treasury box. The treasury included the treasurer, comptroller,
factor (business manager), and other officials. In the 16th century,
sometimes there was an overseer. The treasurer and comptroller had
deputies in other places. Sometimes very important places had separate
Collection of Taxes
Some were directly collected by royal officials. They took out
the quinto at the mines. The Crown used tax farming to collect the
alcabala (sales tax). Tax farmers paid direct to royal treasury for the
franchise. There were customs duties on imports (almajarifazo) and the
crusada (the tax which had been instituted to pay for crusades).
Indian tribute was one of the major sources of revenue. Indians
paid in kind and factors the sold goods and sent the proceeds, minus
their cut, to the royal treasury. The corregidor de los indios was
charged with extracting as much as possible from the Indians.
Treasury officials were supervised by accounting officials. At
first, accounting was a department of the Consejo. Treasury officials
dispersed funds for salaries and expenses and then shipped surplus
back to Spain. The treasury system was understaffed, and the
accounting system even more so. Auditing fell way behind. The more it
fell behind, the more corruption occurred. Audits in the 16th century led
to the creation of audiencias. One could appeal rulings to the Consejo.
The Tribunal of Accounts was created about 1603 in Mexico City,
Lima, and Bogotá.
The Crown steadily increased surveillance of the local
governments. It replaced encomenderos with corregidores in Indian
areas to reduce their power and to insure that income would go to the
Crown. Towns saw the strengthening of appointment to cabildos. The
Crown was leery of cabildos because of the 1520 revolt of comuneros
there. The Crown prohibited the gathering of officials without Crown
permission in order to discourage conspiracies. It wanted to keep
In 1606, Crown made an important effort to a make colonial office
more attractive by making offices renouncible. An officeholder could
resign in favor of someone else. The Crown got a fee out of the
process, providing a revenue source. This made offices more valuable,
more expensive to get. Buyers could mortgage the offices they were
trying to acquire. This resulted in the creation of brokers which made it
easy for the ambitious to borrow money from one of these brokers to
buy an office. One could work one’s way up as one made money from
a lower office to finance buying a higher one. The selling of offices was
never really extended to the major offices. They started to extend to
the major offices under Charles II.
The worse thing about all this was the multiplication of offices.
All those involved, including the Crown, wanted more offices created
but doing so made the bureaucracy even more cumbersome. It is
doubtful if income from offices was worth it.
There were advantages to the sale of offices. The selling of
offices lasted a long time, thereby yielding revenue to the Crown. It
discouraged nepotism among high officials, for one had to pay to take
care of one’s first cousin or other relatives. similar. The practice
encouraged people to settle in America, for one could go to America,
buy an office, and “be someone,” unlike Spain where the system was
more petrified. It gave colonists income for economic development, for
much of the sale price stayed in the colonies.
The bureaucracy’s work showed remarkable uniformity; you
could depend upon it. It turned up a lot of information, and, with
tremendous effort could get policy executed.
The Spanish legal tradition was rich and complex. It used
Roman law with other elements. It is hard to trace older influences; we
do not know how much Germanic or Arabic influence there was. There
was a lot of Roman law in the system which was imported in the 13th
century. This coincides with the strengthening of the Spanish kingdoms.
Spanish law shows the great influence of canon law. In 300 years
before 1492, changes in the law included:
1. conversion of servile holdings into leases, reelecting the
movement towards individualism.
2. continuation of upper class privileges. Growth of grazing
privileges as more important than agricultural rights because the
upper class owned herds and flocks.
3. corporations were recognized. Confradías and gremios
were particularly important corporations. Confradías provided a
burial function as well as a fraternal function for their members.
Sometimes confradías were related to gremios.
Codifications of the law
Each was merely an addition or earlier codes. The
Recopilación de las leyes de las Indias is an example.
Which Spanish law was transferred America? Public land law
primarily. Generally, private law of America was the private law of the
kingdom of Castile. New World changes in the private law caused by
changes in status, primarily. Some changes touched on church
jurisdiction because of the different circumstances in the New World.
The divergence of law of Spain and America grew as time
passed. The differences in regions necessitated modification. As it
touched such issues as family, property, and succession, Spanish
American law was like that of Castile. The differences were several.
Spain had to create laws regulating marriage among Indians.
There was quite a body of law since Indians differed as to condition and
Encomienda law was extensive, for it mattered a great deal both
to those who wanted to acquire and keep encomiendas and to the
Crown. Encomenderos began arguing that their widows should be
allowed to be the custodians when there was a minor male heir and,
eventually, that their widows should be allowed to own them outright.
Family values outweighed sexism in this instance.
The question immediately arose as to whether and under which
circumstances Indians could give testaments. Could they testify against
Spaniards? Yes and against others as well. In much of Latin America,
Indians sued and won in court over land titles. They could dictate wills
Canonical marriage was the same as Spain's with some
modifications, but there were numerous laws concerning mixed
marriage. It was not just the case of whether a Spaniard could marry an
Indian or a black, but when a black and Indian could marry or a mulatto
and a mestizo or a mestizo and a Spaniard and so forth.
The Crown was particularly concerned about royal officials and
when they could marry locals. In general, the Crown preferred that they
did not, fearing that the officials would then become more loyal to the
local people than to the Crown and Spain. Except in the case of the
very highest royal officials, however, the Crown recognized that
marriage would occur; so, it tried to regulate it.
The juridical condition of women occupied a fair amount of
concern. The emigration of women to the New World was slight. Those
who made the journey had to be protected from men and, as most early
modern people believed, against themselves. Because there were so
few, European women in the Spanish colonies enjoyed slightly more
privileges than did women in Spain. All women were discriminated
against, of course, and Spanish women discriminated non-Spanish
women. And there were rules to do so. Women were seldom allowed
to hold public office. Moreover, female behavior was carefully
prescribed; they were not allowed to act like men. Nevertheless,
convent women (many of whom were secular) used the protection of
the Church to manage property.
The Crown tried to protect the Indians against everyone else.
The juzgado de los indios was the special court created for the Indians.
They used it. Amerinds were not subject to the Inquisition. They were
not to be enslaved but the Crown had difficulty enforcing that
prohibition. Amerinds were wards of the state, so to speak, but their
guardians did not always have their best interests at heart..
Spanish law had all kinds of restrictions on foreigners. Some of
them reflected Spanish xenophobia, a sentiment created by the long
Moorish occupation. Some was egotism, the belief that Spaniards were
special. This was reinforced by the Reconquest and then by the fact that
Spain led the Counter-Reformation. Much resulted from the policy of
mercantilism, the attempt to control trade. Foreigners were a threat to
There was abundant legislation regarding trade. There were
laws for trade in certain provinces. The Seville trade monopoly
occasioned numerous decrees and regulations.
There was the absence of precedent law. Instead, they followed
codes and judicial principles. There were no juries. No evidence that
proves that the jury system is any better than Roman-based laws.
The Recopilación de las leyes de las Indias was a
compendium of laws. Tons of other records as well. The most common
piece of legislation sent out was called a cédula. Cedularios were a
collection of cédulas. The Recopilación was supposed to take care of
all laws on imperial basis. It did not; it did not repeal earlier laws. It
made very little difference as far as the empire was concerned. This is
of interest to us because it pointed up the difficulty of change in the
Spanish world. It has been described as a fraction of the exceptions to
Spanish common law.
The Crown wanted its legislation to be enforced, especially with
regard to the Indians. The machinery to enforce the laws was elaborate.
Magistrates and judges were highly honored in Spain. The
Crown of Castile engaged in a great deal of legislative activity,
especially decree legislation. Degree legislation is still a very prominent
kind of Latin American legislation today. The king was thought of more
as a judicial figure than legislative. He was the head of the courts. The
"principle task of government in America was judging between
conflicting interests instead of planning " and "the most serious obligation
that your majesty owes in the governing of Spanish America is justice"
were statements of the king's proper role.
The most trusted institution was the court, especially the
audiencia. The judge was the most trusted individual. Under the
Hapsburgs, the king himself was seen more as an adjudicator among
competing interests than a ruler. Justices did not have large vested
interests and great expectations in the colonies, presumably
discouraging them from caring what the locals thought. Judges were
dependent upon the Crown. They were trained in law schools and
believed in absolute monarchs and centralized government. These
letrados usually, they had no great military ambition or political ambition.
They had respect for all forms of law. They were good bureaucrats.
Judges were respected by the semi-military upper classes.
The audiencia was usually thought to be the most important and
characteristic of colonial institutions. There were ten in the 16th century.
These courts had administrative duties and some political power. They
had extensive influence. They were over all other courts. They reviewed
residencias. They could send special commissions to investigate. They
had original jurisdiction in the case of royal patronage and large
encomiendas. Audiencia decided when question of encroachment of
jurisdiction arose. An audiencia could assess legal fees; set ecclesiastical
fees for sacraments; set and publish Indian tributes and see to
enforcement thereof. As a committee it sat as an acuerdo out of which
came actas acuerdas. An acuerdo hacienda dealt with treasury
matters. In certain cases, it had jurisdiction over Indians affairs. It was
There were attempts to regulate daily life of the oidores. A
fiscal was a prosecuting attorney. Oidores and fiscales were supposed
to live together in one building. The Crown tried to keep them from
building up local interests. Their duties were prescribed. Oidores
were given higher salaries than anyone but viceroys. Did not make
them enormously rich but they were very well off. Most were
peninsulares. Some did in fact become interested in colonial affairs.
Other administrative officials
The administrative system involved a lot of officials other than
the ones mentioned above. There were clerks (escribianos or
scribblers), and town clerks. The clerical officials were the ones who
knew what was going on. They often guided affairs unobtrusively. They
provided permanency and continuity. They stayed for life. They were
non-salaried employees who earned fees. There so many of these
low-level administrative officials that the Crown could not pay all of
them. There were fixed fees for services performed and special fees
(bribes?) to speed things up. These fees in the major places amounted
to quite a lot. There was great competition to get the major posts,
evidence that they were highly valued. The Crown had. trouble filling
these positions in little towns, for there was little money in them.
Sometimes, the Crown could not. This partly explains why people
moved to cities. They could not get anything done in small towns.
There was a huge number of applicants for the good positions,
bureaucratic office mania. To live outside the public budget is to live in
error would have been their motto. Even non-paying offices brought a
modicum of prestige and, possibly, the chance to get a paying job.
Doing a job was not as important as having it. Conquistadores and
relatives, especially sons, demanded jobs; they were the most numerous
class applying for these jobs in the early days. They made poor
scribblers. Charles I let most of these inferior positions go to private
patronage. There were two kinds of appointment: (1) honorific (2)
income-earning. Humans seek recognition, prestige, or some kind of
distinction to separate them from the herd. Honorific jobs provided that.
Jobs that paid were especially important to the lower echelons of
Spanish society, for these people did not want to do manual labor. They
were “too good” for that. Even several low-paying jobs was better than
a loss of status. Demand for jobs was so create that jobs were leased.
Philip II saw some of the evils of this system. He kept
appointments much more in his own hands. He did not end the sale of
minor offices, however; the Crown sold them as a "reform." This made
sale more effective in terms of Crown control.
There came to be the public sale in the American provinces
where offices were auctioned to the highest bidder. It was a provisional
sale, for the person had to prove that there were no obstacles, such as
race, to his holding the job. One exception to the highest bidder rule
was being a viceroy's son. Applicants had to send receipts and
notarized proof that they were honest, of "pure blood," and met the
Proof of the system? It brought in revenue and prevented
colonials from building up local support. The system was accepted by
the public, who thought of jobs as property. The Crown would not
accept sale of judicial offices. The empire used this system and lasted
Spanish Imperial Defense
In theory, Spain claimed all of the New World. In practice, the
Crown concentrated on where it found sedentary American Indians
and/or gold and silver and routes to get the gold and silver to Spain. It
used buffer zones to protect these vital areas.
Aspects of Control
Aristocratic dispensation was reflected in the class system, in
which there was a tiny upper class to whom all others owed obedience
Spain destroyed all regional Amerind organizations. It moved
tribes. The goal was to control the Indians and prevent uprisings.
The Roman Catholic Church taught obedience to constituted
authority and the natural existence of a social hierarchy. Its missions
were means of bringing the indigenous population under control. The
missions often were tied to frontier forts.
The lack of any consistent or sustained European adversaries
until late in the colonial period made control easier. Spain was helped
by European conflicts because other European nations were too busy
fighting each other to attempt to attack the Spanish possessions.
Problems of Control
1. The distance from Spain. Fast time across the Atlantic was
four weeks; at best, round trip was eight weeks. Humans go to
the moon and back faster than that today. It was difficult to
gather information, transmit it, make a decision, and get the
decision implemented before the situation had changed.
2. The bureaucracy; it was hard to get it to do what you
3. The lack of large or proficient army or navy. The Crown did
not and could not impose its will by violence except on rare
4. The harassment by foreigners was a major concern for
Spain. They raided, stole, and settled in the Spanish New
The Spanish established its basic defensive pattern. It did not
have power to throw out its adversaries so it fortified areas she wanted.
It practiced defensive expansion. It moved into territory when it
perceived to be a threat. This was particularly true in New Spain. Spain
moved into California after Sir Francis Drake raided the area. It
expanded towards the Mississippi River after LaSalle had explored the
The major place of European intrusion was the Caribbean area
through which bullion passed. The defensive measure was the creation
of the flota (fleet) system, which lasted from 1537 to 1750). Spain only
lost two to adversaries: one to Drake, one to Dutch (1628). The
principal opponent of Spain after the 1570s was Drake, the Dragon; he
was well known and feared. In 1578-79, he raided the northwest coast
of South America and Mexico and then sailed to the Philippines.
The loss of the Armada in 1588 greatly weakened the Spanish
Navy but did not destroy Spanish naval power. Latin American
settlements expanded in 17th century.
Other European monarchies established settlements in the
Caribbean: the English on Barbados and Jamaica; the French in
Martinique and Guadaloupe; and the Dutch on Curaçao. These were
smuggling bases. Smuggling was a big 17th century enterprise. The
French also established sugar plantations. Under Spanish mercantilism,
all trade was to be within the Empire. That policy encouraged
smuggling. Spanish officials tended to cooperate with smugglers for a
Under the Hapsburgs, Spanish America was not the major area
Brazil, 1580-1640, was under Spanish domination. The major
problem was the Dutch sugar interests in Northeast Brazil. In 1624, the
Spanish Fleet was beaten trying to dislodge them. A silver fleet was
captured a few years later. In 1654, Brazilians, not the Portuguese,
threw the Dutch out. During the period of Spanish control of Brazil,
settlers moved into interior Brazil. There were called Paulistas because
most were from Saõ Paulo, these famous frontiersmen who were also
called Bandeirantes. They expanded into Spanish territory. Brazil kept
The La Plata Estuary, especially the Banda Oriental, was an
area of major conflict between Spain and Portugal. In 1680, Brazil
established the colony of Colonia do Sacramento. It was an attempt to
cut into trade of Buenos Aires. In 1705, the area given to Portugal but
Buenos Aires citizens captured it, not knowing it had been given away.
In Paraguay, the Jesuits established reducciones (controlled
villages) of the Guaraní people. Doing so was a means of keeping the
area and Indians under control.
Viceroys and captains-general were responsible to the king for
defense. Colonial forces were few. Soldiers usually attached to viceroy
as his personal guard. The militia in theory comprised of all male
Spaniards; in practice, the militia was virtually non-existent. Why? There
was no outside threat. Internally, the Crown has strict rules on
armaments. Mestizos, Indians, and Negroes had no arms (in theory).
There was no navy.
Bourbon Period (1700-1828)
The Spanish were involved in the European wars with direct
repercussions in New World. The Bourbons were organizers, famous
for administrative organization. They tightened the system. They
introduced new administrative organizations such as the intendancies.
There were some uprisings, which were not common during Hapsburgs,
and some were caused by resentment of the new system. The Bourbon
kings favored peninsular Spaniards (peninsulares) over Spaniards born
in the colonies (criollos or creoles).
Effects of 18th century European wars on Spanish America
Spain had to grant the asiento to Great Britain. The asiento was
a trading privilege. The British South Sea Company got it in 1713 by a
provision in the Treaty of Utrecht. It allowed the company to sell
thousands of slaves each year to Spanish America for 30 years but it
lost money. It also was allowed to send one ship each year to engage in
general trade. The British used this ship as an excuse to extend their
control in Caribbean and Central America.
The War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-40) (which melded into the
War of the Austrian Succession, 1740-48) was the first major attempt
of England to conquer parts of colonies. Cartegena was attacked by
Admiral Vernon. Other attacks along Peru and Caribbean coasts failed.
The English lost the asiento.
The renewed Spanish-Portuguese conflict over Colonia do
Sacramento, 1773-78, meant the establishment of the Spanish position
in southern South America, for the Spanish won.
Seven Years’ War (1756-1763)
Spain joined the Family Compact (1761) between Bourbon
Spain and Bourbon France (which was fighting Great Britain). British
began attacking Spanish territory. In 1762, the British took Havana.
The Spanish lost the Floridas until 1783. Spain got Louisiana from
The Spanish government began a program to build militia in
New Spain. There were 20,000 militia men in the late 18th century.
They never fought a foreign power. Spanish offered the creoles
commissions in the militia. This put them outside civilian authority
because they were military officers. As it turned out, it heightened the
creoles' sense of comparative deprivation vis-a-vis the peninsulares.
The leaders of the independence movements were creole officers. The
unanticipated result for Spain was bad.
The Napoleonic Wars were bad for Spain. The British were
active in fomenting plans of upheaval. They helped Francisco Miranda
and others. Their goal was to disrupt the operation of the Spanish
Empire. In 1795, Spain lost Santo Domingo to France. In 1806, the
British attacked Buenos Aires but were defeated by porteños, not
Spaniards. At the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), the Spanish fleet was
beaten, ending its offensive capabilities. In 1808, the French invaded
Spain. The colonies refused to recognize Joseph Bonaparte as king.
Spaniards began small wars (guerrillas) to drive the French out.
Territorial Reforms of the Bourbons
In response to the difficulties created by these wars as well as
population growth, the Bourbons reorganized the empire. The
Viceroyalty of New Granada was created in 1718 as a countermeasure
to encroachments, particularly the British in the Caribbean. The
Viceroyalty of La Plata was created in 1776 to strengthen Spanish
control of southern South America. In New Spain, as foreigners moved
towards the border, Spain expanded its outposts there, creating the
comandancia general. It also tried to bring indigenous populations under
$ Paraguay, 1720-40. The cabildo of Asunción got into a
dispute with the governor of Paraguay. Spain sent men
sent in who took over. He was executed in 1726 but
outbreaks of his followers continued until 1740.
$ Creoles revolted in Socorro, near Bogota, in 1781 over
higher taxes. This Comunero Revolt was not far
removed from a fight for independence.
$ Tupac Amaru II revolt. He (José Gabriel
Condorcanqui) was a mestizo of Inca descent. He was
a Spanish colonial official and Jesuit-educated. He
became very concerned over Spanish mistreatment of
the indigenous population and led an uprising in 1780.
This rebellion was the major 18th rebellion. Tupac
wanted it to be general involving all classes and genetic
groups; became an Indian rebellion instead as Spanish
creole and peninsulares as well as mestizos opposed it,
fearing an Indian takeover. In 1781, he was captured
and executed. This was the last major rebellion against
Spanish before the independence movements and
probably the one which shook them the most. They
feared that the dominated classes would rise up.
Conclusions about the governmental system
From 1492 until between 1810 and 1822, the Spanish were
successful in defending the Empire. They lost very little. Spain kept it
wanted through a defensive strategy. The success and profitability of the
contraband trade probably kept Europeans from trying to conquer the
colonies as did the European balance of power. The 18th century
reforms increased Spanish and Spanish American strength but both lost
ground to Great Britain and France in absolute terms.
The key factor was the loyalty of all the Spanish officials,
peninsulares and creoles.
The Spanish ideal was to regulate everything but trying to do so
made trade, manufacturing, and other activity more difficult. In essence,
Spain was trying to do something even twentieth century totalitarian
states could not do.
There was enormous amount of land use. One had be able to
work it, to make some use of it, and use of its products. Agricultural
activities were the most important of all the economic activities that took
place. All kinds of crops could be grown in various places.
The labor supply was not very efficient. Subsistence farming
about as good as subsistence farming anywhere. Forced or slave labor
is inefficient and irresponsible and Spain and Portugal used a lot of
both. It results in the irresponsibility of employers. The technological
level of America was low, and they carried this low productivity into
the republican period.
The purchasing power of populace was very low. Most of the
population was almost completely outside the money economy.
In theory, the economy was heavily affected by the mercantilist
combination of ideas, but subjected to substantial modification in
practice. There was less real restriction in practice but one had to pay
to escape it. This is essential to understanding economic life.
There are poor or no records for most of the period which
presents a problem in trying to do research. In the value of economic
activity, agriculture was the most valuable. Alexander von Humboldt
asserted that it was 25% higher than mineral production. The bulk of the
population was in agriculture, maybe 90%.
The single most important type of land holding was the great
estate or hacienda or latifundia or estancia. Some great estates
produced export crops. Agriculture meant a lot to the oligarchy. The
great estate was typically badly worked. Tremendous amount of land
was idle. Owners had very little incentive to maximize production. They
did not have much or enough personal interest to improve profits. They
could live very well on what they earned. Hacendados lived in towns
and employed mayordomos to run things on the hacienda.
Indian villages owned land. The conquerors left village land in
the hands of the villagers, but villagers were often depopulated by the
spread of fatal diseases. Crown policy was to congregate Indians to
facilitate control, which, unbeknownst to the Crown, meant more
depopulation. There was conflict between Spanish and Indians over
Spanish towns granted land titles, which was one of the reasons
the conquistadores founded towns. These towns also controlled
common pastures and woodlands. Conquistadores gave rural lands to
cavalry (caballerías) and foot soldiers (peonías, about 20% of the
amount given to cavalry). After the Conquest, Spanish towns got land
by royal warrant, which sometimes meant that they took it from Indians
and had the Crown ratify their action.
There were other types of land tenure. The baldío was vacant
public land whereas the realongo was vacant royal land. In New Spain,
a rancho was a small holding. A merced was a grant, sometimes for use
and sometimes for ownership. Had to pay to pass a mercedes on to
one's heirs. They were not entailed. Governor Velásquez divided Cuba
into seven towns and handed out mercedes . Sometimes did not
mention boundaries at all. There were some circular grants. In 1573,
the Audiencia of Santo Domingo sent someone to do something about
the mess. It issued rules in 1574. Did not accomplish anything. A hato
was a cattle ranch. It was an upper class thing to have cattle. For
private estates, one had to leave to all the real property to one's heirs.
Some heirs squatted and then claimed squatters' rights.
Composición was the way the Crown cleaned up land titles. In
1571, there was a great big composición. Too much land to survey so
granted general titles in return for contribution to treasury.
System of Indian community property was good for Indians
because they were better able to keep it. Did not have many draft
animals and few wheeled vehicles because of the terrain. Even after the
Spanish brought draft animals, there were not many because they were
expensive to buy and maintain. Indians had the tradition of preparing
land by hand with digging sticks or hoes. How much plowing was done
when the Spanish came? We do not know.
Agricultural production by areas
The provinces or realms were not alike. Therefore, there was
specialization to some extent. In New Spain, maize was the chief crop.
Suffered endemic trouble with maize prices because of the poor
distribution system and production problems. This created difficulties
and people might riot if maize prices were too high. Labor must have
cost something; the cost of muleteers, wages, and such must have
added up. New Spain was the single most important wheat growing
area but not actually big.
Timber products were important in Cuba in the late colonial
period. Cuba imported barrels from the United States so it started a
campaign to cut Cuban timber and make lumber. The problems of
tools, inefficiency, insufficient capital, and low labor productivity caused
the effort to collapse.
Maguey was used by pre-Columbian Indians for paper, pulque,
and tequila. Spanish created big maguey plantations. Church and,
sometimes, civil government tried to stop the consumption of pulque.
This failed because the Indians liked to drink, plantation owners liked
revenue , and the Crown liked money for the treasury.
Sugar was produced and consumed in tremendous amounts.
There were lots of products. The production and export of sugar in the
colonial period highly specialized. Ortiz Fernando, Cuban
Counterpoint (1947) argues that tobacco and coffee are grown on
little estates. They are grown by small farmers on vegas but sugar
requires large estates and a huge labor force, which people used slaves
to supply. Fantastic increase in the number of slaves in Cuba. Blames a
lot of Cuba's ills on slavery
Cotton production was fairly large; in 1790, New Spain
exported six 6 times as much as that of United States. Cacao was
cultivated in pre-colonial times in some areas, such as Mexico. The
Europeans developed a taste for it, for chocolate.
Coffee was non-native and not important until the end of the
Vanilla was grown and produced. Vanilla production used a
credit system with merchants functioning as bankers. They lent money
to growers, who were Indians.
Tobacco was a late colonial Crown monopoly. The monopoly
became one of the most hated fiscal devices of the Crown and
contributed to the coming of Independence .
Livestock was very important. Not blooded cattle. People were
not demanding what we consider good meattender and marbled with
fat. Meat was difficult to ship. They tried various preservative
techniques. They used meat salting plants, particularly in the Río de le
Plata viceroyalty. The worst of it was sold to feed slaves. They sold
cattle hides, tallow, and grease. The cattle business was a tremendous
business. A subculture revolving around cowboys (vaqueros) was
created in many parts of Latin America. Cowboys tended to be quite
different from peasants in being more independent, ambitious, and
having wider horizons. They played an important role in the
Independence period and in the republican period of some countries.
Spanish raised other livestock and crops. Mules were used a lot
in Panama, and were raised in the highlands of Costa Rica and
Nicaragua. They were raised in northwest Argentina to supply the mines
in Bolivia and Peru. The Spanish grew grapes, principally for wine.
There was a lot of legislation preventing grape growing and making
wine outside of designated areas, but a lot of wine made. Olive trees
and olive oil were important but the inferior production generally was
the result of local conditions, not legislation. The removal of restrictions
on grapes and olives did not seem to change production.
There were three stages of exploitation. The first was
accumulation or simply stealing it or picking it up. The second was
placer prospecting. Panning for gold is an example. The third, vein
mining, was expensive and required a lot of capital.
Vein mining involved shafts. It began in the 1530s, mostly in
silver mines . At first, the value produced from gold was greater than
silver. By 1560s, the value of silver shipments greater than gold. In
1540, 60% of the value was gold but, by the 1560s, silver was greater.
Mountains of silver that made up the bulk of the bullion shipments. The
great Potosí mine in Peru was discovered about 1545 and the great
Zacatecas mines in the 1550s.
Vein mining was localized. There were not many mines and only
in a few places. There was placer mining and panning on the northern
frontier of New Spain. The technology of silver mining were quite poor
by today’s standards. The Spanish were not innovators in silver mining.
Vein mining creates the problem of dealing with water; flooding kept
shafts shallow. Vein mining requires a concentrated labor force. Mine
owners had a lot of people in Charcas in Peru but not in in north central
Mexico. The chichimecas were fierce and nomadic. Chichimecas
around San Luis Potosí kept mines from being worked for a long time.
Mining towns were disorganized, isolated and rough. Mining
was quite a stimulus to other activities such as agriculture, meat
production, and carpentry. Mining produced a great demand for leather
for buckets, mercury flasks, straps, and similar leather goods. Mine
owners and managers brought in luxury goods, at least in Potosí, but the
average work lived poorly.
In the smelting processes, cost and efficiency important. By 1560's
the patio process was used. They learned it from Germans. They used
mercury in amalgamating ore. They did it in New Spain, and the
process was carried by Viceroy Toledo to Peru. Spain, Austria, and
Peru had mercury. New Spain imported its mercury from Spain. Other
colonies imported it from Peru. It was a state-owned monopoly, which
was one way the Crown could determine how much silver mined.
Mines required various kinds of labor, much of it unskilled. Had
to use force to get labor. Used the mita in Peru; this was the Peruvian
term for repartimiento. Also required skilled workers and had to pay
them reasonably well to hire them. Could not use encomienda Indians
and eventually these people began dying out because of the spread of
disease that the Spanish had introduced into the New World.
Silver production declined some in the 17th century decline.
Had some effects on Spanish and America. Then silver production
increased by latter part of 17th and boomed in 18th century. In late
colonial period, Spain produced more silver than Peru. New Spain was
more important because of new mines, new population, and territorial
expansion. There was also improved technology and better
Bourbon changes/reforms in mining:
A mining guild was created in 1777 in New Spain to settle
disputes. Crown set up investment bank for mines. In 1783, new mining
ordinance served as a basis for all mining legislation until late 19th
century. Experts were sent from Germany. Students were sent to study
in Germany and Sweden. The School of Mines established in Mexico
City in 1792. Hindrances to mining reform included conservatism
among the mine owners, the financial straits of the Crown, the lack of
investment, and the disposition of mining property when the owner died.
Mining property was divided among too many heirs which made it
difficult to have unified management.
The exception was in Guanajuato. The Valenciano mine was
first tapped in 1769. It had a single management, which was ruthless. It
produced 25% of all silver exported from New Spain. Tremendous
wealth from the mine. A lot of investment came from individual investors
(rich people), merchants for example, especially in the late colonial in
New Spain. In late colonial period in New Spain, there were three
silver banks. Made loans to miners on the basis of partnership or
mortgages. Mining guild of Mexico had banking as one of its functions.
Supposed to raise two million pesos. It did not and went into
bankruptcy. It did not have great effect.
By the late colonial period, there were economists in Spanish
and America who thought the legislated privileges for mining were
detrimental but mining stimulated other enterprises.
Other Extractive Industries
Fishing. There was a piddling amount of it and it was not
well-organized. They were not fish eaters. They fed fish to Cuban
slaves. Off the coast of Chile, fishing was done by Catalans, an
energetic people from in and about Barcelona. In the1770s, commercial
fishing began at Chiloe. They fished the Humboldt Current, which was
very cold and in which fish thrived, as well as birds which fed on the
fish. Today, Peru has a very large fishing industry which fishes the
Whaling. The Catalan Royal Maritime Fishing Company of Barcelona
did whaling It processed the catch in Patagonia. It had a Crown
cochineal. From this beetle, they extracted a blood-red dye. It was a
valuable commodity. It was the second most valuable export from New
Logging and lumbering. Quite a lot as done. The Spanish were great
builders and liked heavy furniture.
Pearling. Important in Venezuela and Colombia.
Salt gathering/mining. Evaporative techniques. This was a sizable
activity. Growth of salt meat industry in late colonial period in Río de la
Plata was related to the discovery of salt deposits.
Spain, as all authors point out, was unable to supply enough
manufactured goods to supply America, which caused problems.
Spanish industries did grow in the 16th century but the growth did not
last. In the 17th century there was a catastrophic decline. The Crown
expelled the Moriscos, perhaps 400,000, who were an important
economic factor, especially in Valencia. Meant that the colonies could
not expect to get aid and technology from Spain. There was some
cotton manufacturing in Catalonia which benefited from tax advantages.
Manufacturing in America was limited; it was more the growth
of craftsmanship and artisanry. There were saddlers (saddle makers),
weavers of fine cloth (Peru), silversmiths, goldsmiths, sugar making,
distilling, and tobacco processing (which was hurt by the Crown
tobacco monopoly in the late colonial period. Craftsman were generally
organized into gremios (guilds).
Inhibitions upon manufacturing production in America were not
caused so much by Spanish prohibitions but the lack of the ability to
compete. The colonies lacked capital, skilled workmen, and distribution
networks. Transportation within colonies was expensive and difficult;
among the various colonies it was virtually non-existent. The chief
manufacture was textiles, for there were local markets for such things as
clothing. The work was done in obrajes, workshops, which existed all
over the Spanish New World. There were looms in homes.
Obrajes were tough places to work. In 1609, legislation was
passed to stop the abuses. Other laws were passed later. The viceroys
would not enforce these laws, however. Upper-class people did not
care what happened to the workers, who were lower class; besides, the
output was needed.
Gremio records provide historians with some of the best
knowledge of economic activity. There were one hundred gremios in
Mexico City alone. Gremios frequently wrote and published elaborate
ordinances governing their activity. The ordinances covered such
matters as the conditions of labor, the interests of the consumer, of the
masters, and of the Crown, and control of apprentices (who hoped to
become masters). Most of the people below the masters were castas,
the "other" of colonial life. The gremios passed laws regulating their
hours of work and the conditions of work. Many of these laws were
never enforced, however, and the workers were exploited terribly.
Gremios were monopolies and their monopolistic character proved to
be a barrier to innovation.
Workers belonged to confradías, religious brotherhoods, of
crafts. Sometimes these were established before the gremio. They were
important to the workers because they provided hospitals, processions,
and burials. And, of course, they provided for group worship.
Silversmiths are a good example of a gremio. By 1537, they
were working in New Spain even though a 1526 order forbade them in
Spanish America. The order had to be revoked, first for all the colonies
except New Spain but then for New Spain in 1559. By 1685, there
were over seventy silver shops in Mexico City. By 1600, there were
eighty in Lima. Why so many? Spaniards enjoyed the ostentatious
display of wealth; creoles did especially.
Trading was regulated in theory. There was a system of tight
channels in Spain. It was the Consulado de Sevilla through which all
trade to the Americas had to pass. When the Guadaquivir River silted
up, the consulado was moved to Cádiz. The system was used mostly
from the mid-16th century to mid-18th century. There were three ports
in the New World to which ships could go. The small ships that split off
from the convoy in the Caribbean were not important. There were three
consulados: Sevilla, Mexico City, and Lima. Merchants who belonged
to a consulado were interested in monopoly. They wanted the highest
possible profit with the least amount of effort. They concentrated on
luxury goods. They wanted to supply those who had money, which was
a very few number. Fairs were the typical means of disclosing of the
goods. They was a big fair at Porto Bello, Panama, when the fleet
arrived. There was a fair at Veracruz but the Spanish moved it to the
highland town of Jalapa to escape the vagaries of a tropical port.
Holes in the System
! Holes of contrivance. Some mercantile houses in Sevilla
became dummies for foreign mercantile houses.
! Smuggling proper. Done in a variety of ways including
the infamous asiento that Britain acquired from Spain.
Spain could not supply enough goods even with foreign
The bulk of the trade between Spain and its colonies went in
fleets; the rest in registros (registered ships). The use of registros
indicated faults in the fleet system. The number of fleets is known but
not the more important issue of how much tonnage. Fleets from Spain in
the 17th century seemed to average ten thousand tons, two-third of
which went to New Spain. There was more demand in the
Circum-Caribbean area. Registros tended to go more to Buenos Aires.
The fleets suffered numerous interruptions. Spain was almost constantly
in international wars from 1689 to 1815. Only two fleets were lost to an
enemy, however. Storms were a more serious threat.
One of the most important aspects of the economic history of
the colonial period. Hard to investigate, however, because the people
who engaged in it tried to hide what they were doing. Figures on
contraband are dubious. The chief contrabandists were the Dutch,
French, and English. There were lots of privateers and buccaneers;
some settled in the New World. A lot of contraband trade flowed
through Portuguese America or Portuguese trading houses. In the late
colonial period, began to get trade from English America, mostly from
the United States after 1783.
Contraband trade represented more of European trade with
America than Spanish trade with America. The trading system was not
successful; in fact, it was not really a system.
These merchant guilds had judicial functions. Settled fast before
goods rotted. Set rates; decided on bankruptcy; and regulated
transportation. Had deputies in every town within its jurisdiction.
Administered various kinds of public funds. Had endowments to
manipulate. Built roads, custom houses, and other infrastructure.
Contributed money to various things. Was a source of conservatism.
Eight consulados were created in a great hurry in the colonial
period. It is a measure of the inflexibility of Spanish economic policy
that it took so long to make the change.
The Spanish used a convoy system for 200 years. There was
the fleet (flota) system was between Seville, Spain and Veracruz,
Mexico. The galleons ran from Seville to the north coast of South
America. Both touched at the Canary Islands. There also was a galleon
that did the Acapulco-Manila route. These convoys were headed by the
admirals ship and trailed by the vice-admiral's ship. Legally, the tonnage
ranged from 80 to 550 tons but the ships were invariably overloaded.
To cross the Atlantic took 40 days; the Manila-Acapulco run took
seven months. It was necessary to protect the treasure ships going to
Spain and the merchant ships going both ways from privateers, pirates,
and other marauders. The Spanish only lost two fleets to enemies during
the 200-year history of the system. More were lost to storms. In the
late colonial period, the Crown allowed individual ships to sail.
Most portage was done by humans. This was particularly true in
areas with large numbers of Amerinds. This cheap labor could carry a
surprising amount of cargo.
Mules and oxen were very expensive so their use was more
specialized. In old Panama in the 17th century, there were 33 owners of
pack trains with a total of 850 mules. Using mules and hiring arrieros
(muleteers) was profitable because they were used to transport goods
across the Isthmus of Panama so they could be transshipped to Peru
and points south. Similarly, mule trains were used between Veracruz
and Mexico City and between Mexico City and outlying mines.
In Argentina, goods were transported from the northwest
across the pampas to Buenos Aires in oxen-drawn carretas. These
carts had two solid, spokeless wheels. They were called chirriones
because of the shrill, rasping squeal of the tortured axles. The axles
were only greased by the occasional application of animal fat. The
Tucumán carretas had two wheels which were seven feet in diameter.
The wheel hub was seven tenths of a foot across and the axle was ten
and half feet long. The axle did not turn, only the wheels. Four oxen
pulled 3750 pounds of cargo plus supplies fir a total of 5,000 pounds.
the car was made entirely of wood. A cart could average about 15
miles a day.
The postal system did not mean much until the 1765
improvements. Mail distribution was fairly efficient in Peru.
Service and Professional Occupations
There were hordes of servants of all kinds. Lots of women
were in domestic service. Servant families usually lived on the premises.
Most were non-white. Some teachers but the school system was very
small. There were estate managers, entertainers, physicians, lawyers,
pharmacists, and similar occupations. It is hard to know the economic
contributions of these people.
Economic Reforms of the 18th Century
Spanish economists were in no doubt about what was wrong.
Bourbons brought more talented and energetic kings and French ideas.
It took half a century to get this cranked up because of Spanish
conservatism. Charles II was the best. In the period of reform there
were economic improvements but it is not clear why. Were they the
result of the reforms or just a natural outcome? Were the reforms
tinkering with the system or were they substantial? Why did royal
Free trade meant permission to trade within the empire.
Probably increased trade but did it increase production? Between
1778c and 1788, trade increased from 78 million reales to 300 million
reales. Revenue jumped from 4 million pesos in the 1760s to 70 million
In 1556, an unskilled field laborer earned 5 granos a day. There
were 14 granos per real. Took the worker 2.5 days to get a real, 20
days to get a peso. This peso was the minimum Amerind tribute. A
chicken cost three days labor or one real and two granos.
How well were people living in America? Colonials did not live
worse than people in Spain. The urban upper class, especially in the big
towns, lived luxuriously.
By the end of the colonial period, the realization that colonials were
living better than the people on the Iberian Peninsula would be a cause
of independence movements. They realized that they did not need
Society and Culture
Spain transferred its customs and attitudes to America. It was
extraordinarily successful at doing that. Upper class customs and
attitudes were relatively unchanged in America but lower-class customs
changed since lower-class Spaniards who went to the New World
were able to raise their status. The colonial lower class was Indian,
Africa, mestizo, mulatto, or some other DNA mixture. .
Differences with today? Colonial Spaniards had more control.
The father had the legal authority; he ruled the roost in the colonial
period. A wife had few legal rights. Children kept physically under
father's thumb; the family was a very strong unit and included more than
the nuclear family. Large amounts of wealth in Spanish America but only
the upper classes had it. Over time, there was a reduction of restraints.
The existence of Indians and Negroes caused a demoralization of upper
Maybe 300,000 Spaniards went to all of Spanish America over
300 years. Not many were women. Humboldt said that there were 10
times as many men as women in New Spain. That there were so few
Spaniards had enormous demographic consequences.
In 1492, there were between 30 and 50 million Indians in what
would become Spanish America. New Spain had the most population
with about 25. In the Inca area, there were 5 million people. The
Spanish unknowingly introduced diseases virulent to the New World
populations, causing a demographic disaster. Whereas central Mexico
had 19 million people in 1519, it only had 1 million in 1605. The Incas
declined from to 1.5 million by 1561 and 800,00 by 1800.
The Spanish always represented a small minority in the New
World. The Spanish population, by 1570, consisted of only 150,000
people. By 1810, there were 1.1 million whites out of 13.5 million
(8.1% but these figures are only approximate). There were 700,000
Negroes, most of whom were slaves. The rest were Indians or castas
(people of varying genetic mixtures). The total population had declined
since the Spanish had first arrived although it had begun to increase by
the late colonial period.
Caste and Class
In reality, there was a two class system; there was an upper
class and everybody else. Women could be raised by marriage but men
could not. There were lots of divisions in the lower classes but the
system did not acknowledge them. Was it class or caste? Scholars
quarrel. Caste is a social condition into which one is born into and
cannot escape. One did get some discrimination on racial lines: laws
against Negroes mounting horses, having firearms, and staying out after
dark. There was occupational and matrimonial discrimination. There
were law suits over caste status. Alexander von Humboldt, Political
Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain said that, around 1800, color
was the exposed nerve of Venezuela. Racial tension was common.
Indians were a special social category. They were not a single
group. All of the cacique class were the upper class, i.e. enjoyed certain
privileges and exemptions. Indians were in several conditions. In the first
decades after the conquest, many were in repartimiento (allotments for
gang labor; in Peru, it was also called mita). At one time, about half of
the indios were in encomienda (commended to the care of Spaniards in
return for which they either worked for the Spaniard or paid tribute).
Some were slaves. Some were branded. Some were in tutelage to the
Crown. Eventually, many were in debt peonage.
The Laws of the Indies were full of protection for Indians, but
they were often ignored. In 1573, a special court to protect Indians, the
Juzgado de los Indios, was created. Indian villages won lawsuits against
corregidores. Work was supposed to be fixed, i.e. wages, hours,
having to move. Even quite late in the colonial period, there were Indian
slaves. Caciques and Indian overseers were willing to beat Indians.
Peruvian Indians were often enormously exploited having to work for
Spaniards 300 days a year.
Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa, A Voyage to South
America, noticed this on an inspection voyage and reported on abuses.
The mines were very, dangerous. Obrajes (workshops) had terrible
conditions. Clergy often had Indian slaves. Monks sometimes had
Indian mistresses. Indios were kidnapped and enslaved.
Crown went to legislative trouble to protect Indian women First
tried to prohibit marriage; failed. Then allowed licit unions because
Spanish men wanted legal heirs and because marriage aided
conversions to Christianity. Legalization of miscegenation. Encomienda
could be inherited by women. 1539 decree that encomienda could only
be given to married men or had to get married retain encomienda
others. For others, marriage was necessary to hold office. Spanish men
married Indios for money, land, titles, and dowries. Dowry from royal
treasury for mestiza orphan girls. But the 1540's Indian rebellion in
Yucatán as much a revolt against the way their women were treated by
Spanish as anything else.
Mestizaje, the mixture of indios and Spanish, began immediately
as conquerors began fornicating with Indian women. It was not until the
mid-16th century that the Crown saw the ever-larger mestizo
population as a problem and began to restrict what mestizos could do.
They were the favorite mixture in law and practice. Mestizo also
became a class designation as Indians adopted Spanish ways and
Illustrative is the development of the mestizo population in New
Spain. In 1803, Humboldt estimated that there were 41% pure Indians,
20 % whites, and 38% mixed. This process of miscegenation continued.
By 1930, the absolute number of pure Indios greater but their
percentage of the population was less, falling to (28%). The white
population was less than 15% whereas the mixed almost 57%.
Estimates since emphasize the prevalence of the mestizo.
In the colonial period there were two hundred terms to describe
genetic lines. It is doubtful that these people used these terms. The way
the upper class looked at different groups varied. Indios were seen as
higher than Negroes. Certain mixtures considered worst of all, zambos
(Indios and Africans) in the Circum-Caribbean region.
Black Africans were generally slaves. Was not easy to get
freedom and not many did. How well were they treated? We don' t
know. We do know that black slaves not treated better in Brazil than in
United States enough bother about. In Chile in 1767, there was a total
about 10,000-20,000 blacks and mulattos, fewer than half of whom
were slaves. Chile was an exception. However, at least 20% were
owned by Jesuits as slaves. Humboldt said Spanish legislation on slaves
was milder than most other nations (that he knew about). However,
blacks were so dispersed that legislation was worthless. No more than
10% of blacks were free.
Marriage of Spanish and Negroes was not encouraged but
frequent. Marriage of Negro men and Indian women was not
encouraged but common. A zambo child was free if Indian was. The
Crown became concerned because it was thought that the offspring
picked up the worst of two races. Spanish were just as family conscious
as Pilgrims and Puritans but, like them, tended to be self-absorbed and
not be concerned with the domestic arrangements within the lower
Free labor existed in towns. It was non-European, for there
was very little free white labor. Poor Spanish immigrants avoided it
because they were trying to work their way up. There was a prejudice
towards members of the master race doing servile labor. There was a
free Indian labor market. There were squatter settlements in towns as
indios left the countryside to seek better lives in urban areas.
Gremios or guilds were of medieval origin. They were very
exclusive and stood in the way of the improvement of production, for
they had no reason to innovate. They were protected by legal privilege
with numerous lines defining and guaranteeing their rights. The masters
were Spanish. There was racial discrimination inside the guilds, for
Indios, blacks, and other castas were never able to rise in status. No
reason to believe that they were treated better or worse than European
They were very conscious of the fact that they were a tiny
minority. Feared slave revolts; They knew slavery was dangerous. They
were very much interested in status within own group. In the 18th
century, there was growing resentment of the Crown favoring
peninsulares, Spaniards born on the Iberian peninsular. Under the
Bourbon kings of Spain, criollos (Spaniards born in the colonies)
received fewer high governmental positions. For the entire colonial
period, there were only four criollo viceroys, fourteen criollo
captains-general; and 105 of 706 bishops. Criollos clearly discriminated
against. At the end of the 17th century, there were eleven Marquis, 11
counts, one marshal in New Spain, an increase. Titled nobility could
entail land, thus ensuring that it would pass intact to the oldest son.
Helped in the creation of large estates. Others could get entail besides
being titled nobility through mayorazgo, the system whereby the elder
son inherited the titles and properties of the family. In the late 18th
century, efforts were made to get rid of mayorazgo. Church had
mortmain (mano morta), which meant that its landed estates, often
donated by the wealthy pious, grew larger and larger. The upper class
controlled the church. Almost everything was heavily affected by class
and caste in the colonial period
Was there a middle class? The term probably was not used by
colonials and royal officials. In 1824, in Guatemala , there is mention of
the middle class (la clase media) but does this usage equate with what
we mean by the term today? Some might have used this term late in the
colonial period. Use of term in using our terms not theirs. It's ahistorical.
Not enough research has been done, but a significant amount
has been done in the last three decades of the 20th century. They are
frequently difficult to investigate. We need to know more about such
things as population, caste and class economic and social opportunity;
urban and rural life and relations between the two; living conditions;
voluntary associationalism, crime; amusements, religion as relates to
social life; family and family life; alcoholism; and prostitution.
Thomas Gage in his The English-American (1648), describes
Their ordinary clothing is a pair of linen or woollen drawers
broad and open at the knees, without shoes (though in their
journeys some will put on leathern sandals to keep the soles of
their feet) or stockings, without any doublet, a short coarse
shirt, which reacheth a little below their waist, and serves more
for a doublet than for a shirt, and for a cloak a woollen or linen
mantle (called aiate) tied with a knot over one shoulder,
hanging down on the other side almost to the ground, with a
twelve penny or two shilling hat, which after one good shower
of rain like paper falls about their necks and eyes; their bed they
carry sometime about them, which is that woollen, mantle
wherewith they wrap themselves about at night, taking off their
shirt and drawers, which they lay under their head for a pillow;
some will carry with them a short, slight, and light mat to lie, but
those that carry it not with them, if they cannot borrow one of a
neighbour, lie as willingly in their mantle upon the bare ground
as a gentleman in England upon a soft down-bed, and thus do
they soundly sleep, and loudly snort after a day's work, or after
a day's journey with a hundred-weight upon their backs.
Those that are of the better sort, and richer, and who are not
employed as tamemez to carry burdens, or as labourers to
work for Spaniards, but keep at home following their own
farms, or following their own mules about the country, or
following their trades and callings in their shops, or governing
the towns, as alcaldes, or alguaziles, officers of justice, may
go a little better apparelled, but after the same manner. For
some will have their drawers with a lace at the bottom, or
wrought with some coloured silk or crewel, so likewise the
mantle about them shall have either a lace, or some work of
birds on it; some will wear a cut linen doublet, others shoes, but
very few stockings or bands about their necks; and for their
beds, the best Indian Governor or the richest, who may be
worth four or five thousand ducats, will have little more than the
poor tamemez; for they lie upon boards, or canes bound
together, and raised from the ground, whereon they lay a board
and handsome mat, and at their heads for man and wife two
little stumps of wood for bolsters, whereon they lay their shirts
and mantles and other clothes for pillows, covering themselves
with a broader blanket than is their mantle, and thus hardly
would Don Bernabé de Guzman the Governor of Petapa lie,
and so do all the best of them.
The women's attire is cheap and soon put on;
for most of them also go barefoot, the richer and
better sort wear shoes, with broad ribbons for
shoe-strings, and for a petticoat, they tie about
their waist a woollen mantle, which in the better
sort is wrought with divers colors, but not sewed at
all, pleated, or gathered in, but as they tie it with a
list about them; they wear no shift next their body,
but cover their nakedness with a kind of surplice
(which they call guaipil) which hangs loose from
their shoulders down a little below their waist, with
open short sleeves, which cover half their arms; this
guaipil is curiously wrought, especially in the
bosom, with cotton, or feathers. The richer sort of
them wear bracelets and bobs about their waists
and necks; their hair is gathered up with fillets,
without any coif or covering, except it be the better
sort. When they go to church or abroad, they put
upon their heads a veil of linen, which hangeth
almost to the ground, and this is that which costs
them most of all their attire, for that commonly it is
of Holland or some good linen brought from Spain,
or fine linen brought from China, which the better
sort wear with a lace about. When they are at
home at work they commonly take off their
guaipil, or surplice, discovering the nakedness of
their breasts and body. They lie also in their beds
as do their husbands, wrapped up only with a
mantle, or with a blanket. Their houses are but
poor thatched cottages, without any upper rooms,
but commonly one or two only rooms below, in the
one they dress their meat in the middle of it, making
a compass for fire, with two or three stones,
without any other chimney to convey the smoke
away, which spreading itself about the room filleth
the thatch and the rafters so with soot that all the
room seemeth to be a chimney. The next unto it is
not free from smoke and blackness, where
sometimes are four or five beds according to the
family. The poorer sort have but one room, where
they eat, dress their meat, and sleep. Few there are
that set any locks upon their doors, for they fear no
robbing nor stealing, neither have they in their
houses much to lose, earthen pots, and pans, and
dishes, and cups to drink their chocolate being the
chief commodities in their house. There is scarce
any house which hath not also in the yard a stew,
wherein they bathe themselves with hot water,
which is their chief physic when they feel
Among themselves they are in every town
divided into tribes,which have one chief head, to
whom all that belong unto that tribe do resort in
any difficult matters, who is bound to aid, protect,
defend, counsel, and appear for the rest of his tribe
before the officers of justice in any wrong that is
like to be done unto them. When any is to be
married, the father of the son that is to take a wife
out of another tribe goeth unto the head of his tribe
to give him warning of his son's marriage with such
a maid. Then that head meets with the head of the
maid's tribe, and they confer about it. The business
commonly is in debate a quarter of a year; all
which time the parents of the youth or man are with
gifts to buy the maid; they are to be at the charges
of all that is spent in eating and drinking when the
heads of the two tribes do meet with the rest of the
kindred of each side, who sometimes sit in
conference a whole day, or most part of a night.
After many days and nights thus spent, and a full
trial being made of the one and other side's
affection, if they chance to disagree about the
marriage, then is the tribe and parents of the maid
to restore back all that the other side hath spent
and given. They give no portions with their
daughters, but when they die their goods and lands
are equally divided among their sons. If anyone
want a house to live in or will repair and thatch his
house anew, notice is given to the heads of the
tribes, who warn all the town to come to help in the
work, and everyone is to bring a bundle of straw,
and other materials, so that in one day with the help
of many they finish a house, without any charges
more than of chocolate, which they minister in great
cups as big as will hold above a pint, not putting in
any costly materials, as do the Spaniards, but only
a little aniseed, and chilli, or Indian pepper; or else
they half fill the cup with atole, and pour upon it as
much chocolate as will fill the cup and colour it.
In their diet the poorer sort are limited many
times to a dish of frijoles, or Turkey beans, either
black or white (which are there in very great
abundance, and are kept dry for all the year)
boiled with chilli; and if they can have this, they
hold themselves well satisfied; with these beans,
they make also dumplings, first boiling the bean a
little, and then mingling it with a mass of maize, as
we do mingle currents in our cakes, and so boil
again the frijoles with the dumpling of maize mass,
and so eat it hot, or keep it cold; but this and all
whatsoever else they eat, they either eat it with
green biting chilli, or else they dip it in water and
salt, wherein is bruised some of that chilli. But if
their means will not reach to frijoles, their ordinary
fare and diet is their tortillas (so they call thin round
cakes made of the dough and mass of maize)
which they eat hot from an earthen pan, whereon
they are soon baked with one turning over the fire;
and these they eat alone either with chilli and salt,
and dipping them in water and salt with a little
bruised chilli. When their maize is green and tender,
they boil some of those whole stalks or clusters,
whereon the maize groweth with the leaf about,
and so casting a little salt about it, they eat it. I have
often eat of this, and found it as dainty as our
young green peas, and very nourishing, but it much
increaseth the blood. Also of this green and tender
maize they make a furmety, boding the maize in
some of the milk which they have first taken out of
it by bruising it. The poorest Indian never wants
this diet, and is well satisfied as long as his belly is
But the poorest that live in such towns where
flesh meat is sold will make a hard shift but that
when they come from work on Saturday night they
will buy one half real, or a real worth of fresh meat
to eat on the Lord's day. Some will buy a good
deal at once and keep it long by dressing it into
tasajos, which are bundles of flesh, rolled up and
tied fast, which they do when, for example's sake,
they have from a leg of beef sliced off from the
bone all the flesh with the knife, after the length,
form, and thinness of a line, or rope. Then they
take the flesh and salt it (which being sliced and
thinly cut, soon takes salt) and hang it up in their
yards like a line from post to post, or from tree to
tree, to the wind for a whole week, and then they
hang it in the smoke another week, and after roll it
up in small bundles, which become as hard as a
stone, and so as they need it they wash it, boil it
and eat it. This is America's powdered beef, which
they call tasajo....
As for drinking, the Indians generally are much
given unto it; and drink if they have nothing else of
their poor and simple chocolate, without sugar or
many compounds, or of atole, until their bellies be
ready to burst. But if they can get any drink that
will make them mad drunk, they will not give it
over as long as a drop is left, or a penny remains in
their purse to purchase it. Among themselves they
use to make such drinks as are in operation far
stronger than wine; and these they confection in
such great jars as come from Spain, wherein they
put some little quantity of water, and fill up the jar
with some molasses or juice of the sugar-cane, or
some honey for to sweeten it; then for the
strengthening of it, they put roots and leaves of
tobacco, with other kind of roots which grow
there, and they know to be strong in operation, and
in some places I have known where they have put
in a live toad, and so closed up the jar for a
fortnight, or month's space, till all that they have put
in him be thoroughly steeped and the toad
consumed, and the drink well strengthened, then
they open it and call their friends to the drinking of
it (which commonly they do in the night time, lest
their priest in the town should have notice of them
in the day), which they never leave off until they be
mad and raging drunk. This drink they call chicha,
which stinketh most filthily, and certainly is the
cause of many Indians' death, especially where
they use the toad's poison with it....
And thus having spoken of apparel, houses,
eating and drinking, it remains that I say somewhat
of their civility, and religion of those who lived
under the government of the Spaniards. From the
Spaniards they have borrowed their civil
government, and in all towns they have one, or
two, alcaldes, with more or less regidores (who
are as aldermen or jurats amongst us) and some
alguaziles, more or less, who are as constables, to
execute the orders of the alcalde (who is a mayor)
with his brethren. In towns of three or four hundred
families, or upwards, there are commonly two
alcaldes, six regidores, two alguaziles mayores,
and six under, or petty, alguaziles. And some
towns are privileged with an Indian Governor, who
is above the alcaldes and all the rest of the officers.
These are changed every year by new election, and
are chosen by the Indians themselves, who take
their turns by the tribes or kindreds, whereby they
are divided. Their offices begin on New Year's
Day, and after that day their election is carried to
the city of Guatemala (if in that district it be made)
or else to the heads of justice, or Spanish
governors of the several provinces, who confirm
the new election, and take account of the last
year's expenses made by the other officers, who
carry with then their townbook of accounts; and
therefore for this purpose every town hath a clerk,
or scrivener, called escribano who commonly
continueth many years in his office, by reason of
the paucity and unfitness of Indian scriveners who
are able to bear such a charge. This clerk hath
many fees for his writings and informations, and
accounts, as have the Spaniards, though not so
much money or bribes, but a small matter,
according to the poverty of the Indians. The
Governor is also commonly continued many years,
being some chief man among the Indians, except
for his misdemeanours he be complained of, for the
Indians in general do all stomach him.
Thus they being settled in a civil way of
government they may execute justice upon all such
Indians of their town as do notoriously and
scandalously offend. They may imprison, fine,
whip, and banish, but hang and quarter they may
not; but must remit such cases to the Spanish
governor. So likewise if a Spaniard passing by the
town, or living in it, do trouble the peace, and
misdemean himself, they may lay hold on him, and
send him to the next Spanish justice, with a full
information of his offence, but fine him, or keep him
about one night in prison they may not. This order
they have against Spaniards, but they dare not
execute it, for a whole town standeth in awe of one
Spaniard, and though he never so heinously offend,
and be unruly, with oaths, threatenings, and
drawing of his sword, he maketh them quake and
tremble, and not presume to touch him; for they
know if they do they shall have the worst, either by
blows, or by some misinformation which he will
give against them....
Amongst themselves, if any complaint be made
against any Indian, they dare not meddle with him
until they call all his kindred, and especially the
head of that tribe to which he belongeth; who if
heand the rest together find him to deserve
imprisonment, or whipping, or any other
punishment, then the officers of justices, the
alcaldes or mayors, and their brethren the jurats
inflict upon him that punishment which all shall
agree upon. But yet after judgment and sentence
given, they have another, which is their last appeal,
if they please, and that is to their priest and friar,
who liveth in their town, by whom they will
sometimes be judged, and undergo what
punishment he shall think fittest.
In contrast, Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa, in A Voyage to
South America (1748), provide this description of colonial Lima, which
The inhabitants of Lima are composed of whites, or
Spaniards, Negroes, Indians, Mestizos, and other casts,
proceeding from the mixture of all three. The Spanish
families are very numerous; Lima according to the
lowest computation, containing sixteen or eighteen
thousand whites, Among these are reckoned a third or
fourth part of the most distinguished nobility of Peru;
and many of these dignified with the stile of ancient or
modern Castilians, among which are no less than 45
counts and marquises. The number of knights belonging
to the several military orders is also very considerable.
Besides these are many families no less respectable and
living in equal splendor; particularly 24 gentlemen of
large estates, but without titles, tho' most of them have
ancient seats, a proof of the antiquity of their families.
One of these traces, with undeniable certainty, his
descent from the Incas. The name of this family is
Ampuero, so called from one of the Spanish
commanders at the conquest of this country, who
married a Coya, or daughter of the Inca. To this family
the kings of Spain have been pleased to grant several
distinguishing honours and privileges, as marks of its
great quality: and many of the most eminent families in
the city have desired intermarriages with it. All those
families live in a manner becoming their rank, having
estates equal to their generous dispositions, keeping a
great number of slaves and other domestics, and those
who affect making the greatest figure, have coaches,
while others content themselves with calashes or
chaises, which are here so common, that no family of
any substance is without one. It must be owned that
these carriages are more necessary here than in other
cities, on account of the numberless droves of mules
which continually pass thro' Lima, and cover the streets
with their dung, which being soon dried by the sun and
the wind, turns to a nauseous dust, scarce supportable
to those who walk on foot. These chaises, which are
drawn by a mule, and guided by a driver, have only two
wheels, with two seats opposite to each other, so that
on occasion they will hold four persons. They are very
slight and airy; but on account of the gildings and other
decorations, sometimes cost eight hundred or a
thousand crowns. The number of them is said to amount
to 5 or 6000; and that of coaches is also very
considerable, tho' not equal to the former. The funds
to support these expenses, which in other parts would
ruin families, are their large estates and plantations, civil
and military employments or commerce, which is here
accounted no derogation to families of the greatest
distinction; but by this commerce is not to be
understood the buying and selling by retail or in shops,
every one trading proportional to his character and
substance. Hence families are preserved from those
disasters too common in Spain, where titles are
frequently found without a fortune capable of supporting
their dignity. Commerce is so far from being considered
as a disgrace at Lima, that the greatest fortunes have
been raised by it; those on the contrary, being rather
despised, who not being blessed with a sufficient estate,
through indolence, neglect to have recourse to it for
improving their fortunes. This custom, or resource,
which was established there without any determinate
end, being introduced by a vain desire of the first
Spaniards to acquire wealth, is now the real support of
that splendor in which those families live; and whatever
repugnance these military gentlemen might originally
have to commerce. it was immediately removed by a
royal proclamation, by which it was declared that
commerce in the Indies should not exclude from nobility
or the military orders; a very wise measure, and of
which Spain would be still more sensible, were it
extended to all its dependencies. At Lima, as at
Quito, and all Spanish America, some of the eminent
families have been long since settled there, whilst the
prosperity of others is of a later date; for being the
center of the whole commerce of Peru, a greater
number of Europeans resort to it, than to any other city;
some for trade, and others, from being invested in Spain
with considerable employments: among both are
persons of the greatest merit; and tho' many after they
have finished their respective affairs, return home, yet
the major part induced by the fertility of the soil, and
goodness of the climate, remain at Lima, and marry
young ladies remarkable equally for the gifts of fortune
as those of nature and thus new families are continually
settled. The Negroes, Mulattoes, and their
descendants, form the greater number of the inhabitants;
and of these are the greatest part of the mechanics; tho'
here the Europeans also follow the same occupations,
which are not at Lima reckoned disgraceful to them, as
they are at Quito; for gain being here the universal
passion, the inhabitants pursue it by means of any trade,
without regard to its being followed by Mulattoes,
interest here preponderating against any other
consideration. The third, and last class of inhabitants
are the Indians and Mestizos, but these are very small in
proportion to the largeness of the city, and the
multitudes of the second class. They are employed in
agriculture, in making earthen ware, and bringing all
kinds of provisions to market, domestic services being
performed by Negroes and Mulattoes, either slaves or
free, though generally by the former. The usual dress
of the men differs very little from that worn in Spain, nor
is the distinction between the several classes very great;
for the use of all sorts of cloth being allowed, every one
wears what he can purchase. So that it is not
uncommon to see a Mulatto, or any other mechanic
dressed in a tissue, equal to any thing that can be worn
by a more opulent person. They all greatly affect fine
cloaths, and it may be said without exaggeration, that
the finest stuffs made in countries, where industry is
always inventing something new, are more generally
seen at Lima than in any other place; vanity and
ostentation not being restrained by custom or law. Thus
the great quantities brought in the galleons and register
ships notwithstanding they sell here prodigiously above
their prime cost in Europe, the richest of them are used
as cloaths, and worn with a carelessness little suitable to
their extravagant price; but in this article the men are
greatly exceeded by the women, whose passion for
dress is such as to deserve a more particular account.
In the choice of laces, the women carry their taste to a
prodigious excess; nor is this an emulation confined to
persons of quality, but has spread thro' all ranks, except
the lowest class of Negroes. The laces are sewed to
their linen, which is of the finest sort, though very little of
it is seen, the greatest part of it, especially in some
dresses, being always covered with lace; so that the
little which appears seems rather for ornament than use.
These laces too must be all of Flanders manufacture, no
woman of rank condescending to look on any other.
Their dress is very different from the European, which
the custom of the country alone can render excusable;
indeed to Spaniards at their first coming over it appears
extremely indecent. Their dress consists of a pair of
shoes, a shift, a petticoat of dimity, an open petticoat,
and a jacket, which in summer, is of linen, in winter of
stuff. To this some add a mantellette, that the former
may hang loose. The difference between this dress and
that worn at Quito, though consisting of the same pieces
is, that at Lima it is much shorter, the petticoat which is
usually tied below the waist, not reaching lower than the
calf of the leg, from whence, nearly to the ankle, hangs
a border of very fine lace, sewed to the bottom of the
under petticoat; through which the ends of their garters
are discovered, embroidered with gold or silver, and
sometimes set with pearls; but the latter is not common.
The upper petticoat, which is of velvet, or some rich
stuff, is fringed all round, and not less crowded with
ornaments, than those described in the first volume of
this work. But be the ornaments what they will, whether
of fringe, lace, or ribbands, they are always exquisitely
fine. The shift's sleeves, which are a yard and a half in
length, and two yards in width, when worn for
ornament, are covered with rolls of laces, variegated in
such a manner as to render the whole truly elegant.
Over the shift is worn the jacket, the sleeves of which
are excessively large, of a circular figure, and consist of
rows of lace, or slips of cambrick or lawn, with lace
disposed betwixt each, as are also the shift sleeves,
even of those who do not affect extraordinary
ornament. The body of the jacket is tied on the
shoulders with ribbands fastened to the back of their
stays; and the round sleeves of it being tucked up to the
shoulders, are so disposed together with those of the
shift, as to form what may be term'd four wings. If the
jacket be not buttoned or clasped before, it is agreeably
fastened on the shoulders; and indeed the whole dress
makes a most elegant figure. They who use a close vest,
fasten it with clasps, but wear over it the loose jacket,
already described. In the summer they have a kind of
veil, the stuff and fashion of which is like that of the shift
and body of the vest, of the finest cambrick or lawn,
richly laced: But in winter the veil worn in their houses is
of baize; when they go abroad full dressed, it is adorned
like the sleeves. They also use brown baize, finely laced
and fringed, and bordered with slips of black velvet.
Over the petticoat is an apron of the same stuff as the
sleeves of the jacket, hanging down to the bottom of it.
From hence some idea may be formed of the expense
of a dress, where the much greater part of the stuff is
merely for ornament; nor will it appear strange that the
marriage shift should cost a thousand crowns, and
sometimes more. One particular on which the women
here extremely value themselves, is the size of their feet,
a small foot being esteemed one of the chief beauties;
and this is the principal fault they find with the Spanish
ladies, who have much larger feet than those of Lima.
From their infancy they are accustomed to wear straight
shoes, that their feet may not grow beyond the size of
which they esteem beautiful; some of them do not
exceed five inches and a half, or six inches in length, and
in women of a small stature they are still less. Their
shoes have little or no sole, one piece of Cordovan
serving both for that and the upper leather, and of an
equal breadth and roundness at the toe and heel, so as
to form a sort of long figure of eight; but the foot not
complying with this figure, brings it to a greater
regularity. These shoes are always fastened with
diamond buckles, or something very brilliant in
proportion to the ability of the wearer, being worn less
for use than ornament; for the shoes are made in such a
manner that they never loosen of themselves, nor do the
buckles hinder their being taken off. It is unusual to set
these buckles with pearls, a particular to be accounted
for, only from their being so lavish of them in the other
ornaments of dress, as to consider them as of too little
value. The shoemakers, who are no strangers to the
foible of the sex take great care to make them in a
manner very little calculated for service. The usual price
is three half crowns a pair, those embroidered with gold
or silver cost from eight to ten crowns. The latter,
however, are but little worn, the encumbrance of
embroidery being suited rather to enlarge than diminish
the appearance of a small foot. They are fond of
white silk stockings, made extremely thin, that the leg
may appear the more shapely; the greatest part of
which is exposed to view. These trifles often afford very
sprightly sallies of wit in their animadversions on the
dress of others. Hitherto we have considered only the
more common dress of these ladies; the reader will
conceive a still higher idea of their magnificence, when
he is informed of the ornaments with which they are
decorated in their visits, and upon public occasions. We
shall begin with their manner of dressing the hair, which
being naturally black, and capable of reaching below
their waists, they dispose in such a manner as to appear
perfectly graceful. They tie it up behind in six braided
locks, through which a golden bodkin a little bent is
inserted, and having a cluster of diamonds at each end.
On this the locks are suspended so as to touch the
shoulder. On the front and upper part of the head they
wear diamond egrets, and the hair is formed into little
curls, hanging from the forehead to the middle of the
ear, with a large black patch of velvet on each temple.
Their earrings are of brilliants, intermixed with tuffs of
black silk, covered with pearls, resembling those
already described in the first volume. These are so
common an ornament, that besides their necklaces, they
also wear about their necks rosaries, the beads of
which are of pearls, either separate or set in clusters to
the size of a large filbert; and those which form the
cross are still larger. Besides diamond rings,
necklaces, girdles, and bracelets, all very curious both
with regard to water and size, many ladies wear other
jewels set in gold, or for singularity sake, in tombac [an
alloy consisting essentially of copper and zinc]. Lastly,
from their girdle before is suspended a large round
jewel enriched with diamonds; much more superb than
their bracelets, or other ornaments. A lady covered with
the most expensive lace instead of linen, and glittering
from head to foot with jewels, is supposed to be
dressed at the expense of not less than thirty or forty
thousand crowns. A splendor still the more astonishing,
as it is so very common. A fondness for expense in
these people, does not confine itself to rich apparel; it
appears no less in the strange neglect, and the small
value they seem to set upon them, by wearing them in a
manner the most careless, and by that means bringing
upon themselves fresh expenses in repairing the old or
purchasing new jewels; especially pearls on account of
their fragility. The most common of the two kinds of
dresses worn when they go abroad, is the veil and long
petticoat; the other is a round petticoat and mantelet.
The former for church, the latter for taking the air, and
diversions; but both in the prevailing taste for expense,
being richly embroidered with silver or gold. The long
petticoat is particularly worn on holy Thursday; as on
that day they visit the churches, attended by two or
three female Negro or mulatto slaves, dressed in an
uniform like pages.
Colonial society had a variety of people as this story of Doña
Catalina de Erazu illustrates! Leslie Byrd Simpson, Many Mexicos, tells
the story. Catalina escaped from her convent in male attire and
swashbuckled her way from Spain to Peru and Chile. She became
famous as a swords woman Sometimes she worked as an arriero
(muleteer), sometimes a soldier. Her dueling and killing kept her in
constant hot water with the authorities. At one point , she escaped
execution only by revealing that she was a woman, a nun, and a virgin.
Her case baffled the legal minds of Peru; she was sent back to Spain for
disposal. Spanish authorities gave up and turned her over to Pope who
was so intrigued by her story that he gave her dispensation to wear male
clothing the rest of her life. King Philip IV granted her a pension of 500
pesos. Catalina landed in New Spain about 1640, took up the trade of
arriero and became the terror of the Mexico City-Veracruz road. Her
career reached a fitting climax when she fall madly in love with the wife
of a young hidalgo. When he showed her the door, she challenged him
to mortal combat. The duel was prevented, however. She died as an
arriero in 1650.
Spirit and Letters of the Colonial Period
The spirit of the colonial period was incarcerated in the Church.
It was the unifying force everywhere. Inquisition was used to enforce
membership in Catholicism. Most public buildings were churches.
Church controlled education. Spanish Christianity was reformed in the
16th century by Cardinal Jiménez de Cisneros. It was vibrant and
The Church was more under Crown control in Spain than any
other European monarchy. The Crown controlled appointments to
Church officers and papal bulls coming into the kingdom as well as
other means of control. This was the Patronato Real. The Church had
to give a "free gift" to the Crown. Spaniards, as are most people, were
very concerned with status, with who had precedence. Being appointed
to a high church office or having a relative who was gave status. Royal
officials always enforced their position, however.
The deterioration of the Church occurred over time. The
Spanish church peaked in strength in the late 16th and early 17th
centuries. By the 18th century, it had serious problems with corruption
and marriages by the clergy.
The Church was also an economic institution. In New Spain, it
controlled about half of the land. In Peru it controlled about one third.
Because of mortmain, it accumulated wealth during the colonial period.
Piety, shrewd bishops, and mortmain consistently increased the amount
of land the Church held. The Church, particularly the Jesuits, served as
bankers through loans to secular people. The Church collected taxes
such as the tithe and the crusade tax ( paid for not going). The clergy
had to pay annates to the Crown at the rate of one-half of the first
year's revenue of the clerical offices held.
The clergy were split between the hierarchy and the parish
clergy. The parish clergy were poorly paid. They were often
uneducated. Some parish priests found non-Church revenue in order to
support themselves. This created conflicting goals. Among the higher
clergy, there legal fights over bishops' personal estates. Class structure
played an important role in Church politics and organization.
Peninsulares (Spaniards born in Spain as opposed to Spaniards born in
the colonies who were called criollos) held the high offices. In criollo
families, at least one member of the family went to the clergy, that is,
The Church was also riven by the secular-regular controversy.
Regular clergy lived by rules or reglas, groups such as the Dominicans,
Franciscans, and Jesuits. Secular clergy focused on the lay public,
serving as parish priests. The status was with the regular clergy because
their lives were more devoted to serving God. They were the
missionaries "Christianizing" the Indians. The rule, though not always
enforced, was that regular clergy would yield their missions to the
secular clergy once the mission was accomplished. The Church was
concentrated in the cities. Even regular clergy preferred the amenities of
Holy Office of the Inquisition
The Inquisition was under state control. Its goal was to root out
heretics and heresy. Brought by a bishop to Santa Domingo in 1517
and remained under the control of bishops until 1569 when the king
established tribunals of the Holy Office of the Inquisition at Mexico
City and Lima. Later put one in New Granada in 1610. Bishop Juan de
Zumárraga of Mexico City became the Inquisitor of New Spain in
1535. It was ended but reestablished in the 1570s. In theory, it had
jurisdiction over Christians. Since 1478, it tried to convert Jews and
Muslims. Indians were exempt from its activities. The health of their
souls were the responsibility of the ordinary clergy. Later, the Church
expanded its authority to include morals. It was powerful. Censored
books and sought to control thoughts.
Originally, the Spanish recruited Indians into the clergy. That
made conversion and control easier. By the late 16th century, when the
imperatives of the conquest were gone, Indians excluded from the
clergy in the late 16th century.
Education was for the upper-class males but there were schools
for Indian males. Jesuits specialized in education and had many
institutions. When the Jesuits were expelled from Spain in 1767, it was
impossible to replace their educational efforts. Almost all schools were
for upper-class Spaniards although there was the occasional effort to
educate upper-class mestizo and cacique (an Indian leaders) sons.
The curriculum was medieval. They taught a curriculum of
Aristotle and Scholasticism. There were a few women in monastery
schools. The ideal was to have convent-trained women and
monastery-trained men marry and carry out Christian ideals and ideas.
Spain enjoyed great success in transplanting its institutions and
culture. In 1538, the Crown founded a university in Santo Domingo; in
1551, the University of Mexico; and in 1551, the University of San
Marcos in Peru. These universities had state support but money was
always a problem. The entering fees were small but rose the longer one
stayed. This favored the rich, the upper class. It cost a fortune to get a
It was scholastic, a product of the Catholic Counter
Reformation. It stressed reliance on authority, e.g. Scriptures and
Aristotle. It sought philosophical not scientific truths. Spanish institutions
were the last stand of scholasticism. Enlightenment authors only read in
the late 18th and early 19th centuries after battle with the scholastics. It
produced very few scientists. Graduate degrees above the bachelors
were the Doctor of Theology, the highest degree [replaced today by the
Doctor of Philosophy or Ph.D.], then the Doctor of Laws which was
Church and Roman Law, and, finally, the Doctor of Medicine. These
were about as good as contemporaries in England, France in the 18th
The purpose of higher education was to train church officials
and government officials. Had small libraries but these were important
repositories of knowledge.
Initially, the Spanish exercised considerable control over
thought and press through the Inquisition and the state. Control
weakened over time. Permission was granted to more upper class
people to read. Book smuggling increased. On the whole, there was
considerable freedom of thought within limits. You could not attack the
Crown but could attack government officials and their behavior. Same
was true of the Church.
Printing came to Mexico City in 1535 and to Lima in the 1550s.
One had to have permission of the Council of the Indies to print a
book. Very little was printed in the colonial period because it was too
expensive. Most that was printed was of a religious nature. There were
no newspapers until the 18th century. Newspapers were printed in
Guatemala, Mexico City, Lima, and Buenos Aires. Usually, they were
weeklies loaded with announcements and religious notices. Some of the
papers played an important role in the Independence period.
How much literacy? About 25% of the urban whites.
Chronicles are an excellent source of what was going on. The
writing style was baroque. It got more baroque as time went on.
In architecture, the Church was important. Most churches were
in the baroque style. They used a lot of gold in churches.
There were changes in the mining curriculum; there were mining
reforms in the 1770s. Mining had stayed the same for 200 years. It was
a conservative society which refused to change methods and
workability of old techniques. The mining guilds and schools also
resisted change. Had to inculcate new ideas into colonists in order to
get more productivity.
Spain was very successful in passing her culture from Spain to
America. It was baroque and scholastic and meant for the upper
classes. Spanish culture and letters were infinitely better developed than
Brazil and Spanish America were similar in regards to the class system,
having an oligarchic government, Roman Catholicism, slavery,
anti-Indian sentiments, dependence on European goods and imports,
the great estate (fazenda), and the lack of economic incentives for the
vast majority of the population. Brazilians found few precious metals
until the 1690s, unlike Spanish America where precious metals almost
immediately played the major in Spanish exploitation of the people and
Urban life was much more common and important in Spanish
America. In Brazil, the elites tended to stay on their great estates.
Because there may have been no more than one million Indians
in what is now Brazil and most of them were not sedentary as were the
Inca or the Aztec, Africans and people of African descent quickly
outnumbered the Indians. The Indian people died in large numbers
because the European diseases or the imposition of European cultural
norms. Whereas Spaniards sired a huge mestizo population, the
Portuguese sired a huge mulatto population. The purely Portuguese
DNA pool was very small, for few Portuguese women emigrated to
Brazil. Nor were there large numbers of other Europeans. By
independence, at least, Brazil became a "black" nation, depending upon
how one defines "black."
1. Discovery and first settlements
Pedro Alvares Cabral's fleet touched Brazil in April, 1500.
Soon afterward Cabral returned to Portugal, Fernando do Noronha
began shipping brazilwood, used as a textile dye. Others followed suit
and the territory came to be called Brazil. The first settlements were
feitorias (factories, the name for trading posts in those days). The
Crown paid little attention to Brazil; its limited resources were focused
on its more lucrative colonies in Africa and Asia. Other Europeans
began to enter the dyewood trade.
The size of the Portuguese settlement in Brazil would be
determined by what they found to exploit and by climate and terrain.
Besides dyewood, they found that the land of northeast Brazil was
suitable to sugar cultivation. They tended to hug the coast but overcame
geographical barriers (such as the coastal escarpment) when it was to
their economic advantage.
2. The captaincies
By 1530, Crown sent out a fleet to attack French settlements,
strengthen feitorias, and explore inland. In 1532, the expedition founded
Sâo Vicente about 200 miles southwest of Guanabara Bay. This
expedition brought European animals and seeds, erected forts, set up
town governments, and issued private land grants (sesmarias).
In 1534-1536, the Crown granted 15 hereditary captaincies
(capitanías) to 12 persons (donátorios) . The captaincies extended, on
average, 250 miles along the coast and into the interior for an indefinite
distance. The donátorios were relatively important for some time. They
set up ways of exploiting Brazil that more or less worked. However,
only Pernambuco and Sâo Vicente succeeded economically. By 1548,
Brazil had sixteen settlements but they were far apart.
In 1549, the Crown created the governor-general system (in
Spanish America it was the viceroy system). This was the beginning of
the centralized administration system with a treasurer, chief justice, and
other bureaucrats. Formal Crown government was created in part as a
defense against foreign intruders, who had begun to come. The
governor-general drove the French and other foreigners out.
The Crown gave away sesmarias, fostered the growth of
Christianity and the Church, imported workers, and provided some
government. By 1572, the Crown split Brazil into two jurisdictions, the
northern one had Bahía as its capital, the south had Río de Janeiro.
Portugal fiddled off and on with this arrangement and eventually allowed
a chief justice in the south.
Most of the early workers were Indians, who taught the
Portuguese to live in the tropics. There were never enough Portuguese
to exploit the land and they were disinclined to do manual labor when
there was an alternative Indian labor. Indian slaves became
commonplace. From the Indians, the Portuguese learned to eat such
foods as casava, use hammocks, and dress more appropriately.
As in Spanish America, European men took Indian women, free
persons or slaves, as lovers, mixing their DNA with that of the existing
population. Many mamelucos were born. Few women came to Brazil
from Portugal. Given the dominance of these men, however, Indian
women probably would have become lovers to Portuguese men
The regular clergy and the Crown, to some extent, opposed slavery
and the mistreatment of Indians but to little effect. Greed could not be
overcome by such weak institutions. Even the Jesuits were unable to
protect their charges whom they had gathered together into settlements
for that purpose.
Africans and their offspring became the predominant DNA
strain in Brazil's population. Black Africans had captured and traded
other black Africans long before the Europeans explored the continent.
When the Europeans did come, Africans continued to control the slave
trade. The Portuguese learned the trade from Africans and from
Europeans and had traded slaves from their African feitorias. By 1585,
black slaves represented about 25% of the settled population of 57,00
persons in Brazil. By 1700, they represented more than 30% of the
settled population. In the 18th century, some 1.3 million arrived in Brazil
and another 1.6 million in the nineteenth. Although slaves were
short-lived because of working conditions, abuse, the effects of
dislocation, and such, their offspring soon were more numerous than
that of the Indians and the Portuguese. Brazil became a black colony
and then a black nation, depending upon how one counts blackness.
Brazil was much like the rest of the European world in being
both class conscious and caste conscious. Blacks were considered
inferior and there were many racial discrimination laws. However, one
could change status more easily in Brazil than in the rest of the Western
Hemisphere. Mulattos (European and African) could become white in
Brazil if they could find a high status occupation or marry up. Class,
after all, is very important to humans and class consciousness, in varying
degrees, seems to exist in all human societies. People in Brazil knew
their social class (or "place") and deferred to the wishes of their
The growth of sugar culture in northeast Brazil led to creation of
fazendas (large plantations) and the importation of Africans as slaves.
Sugar planters enjoyed much autonomy from the Crown because they
enjoyed wealth, power, and retainers and because they were
geographically distant from the authorities.
8. The Spanish Period
Philip II of Spain managed to get himself recognized as the king
of Portugal in 1560 and the Spanish crown retained control of the
throne until 1640. This was important in Brazilian history, for it allowed
for unfettered Brazilian expansion into lands claimed by Spaniards
When the monarchies separated, Brazil kept the territory. It also meant
the better bureaucratic organization of Brazil as the Spanish Crown
imported a number of its ideas and institutions although Brazil was
always governed separately.
9. The Dutch Intrusion
The Dutch conquered and occupied part of northeast Brazil
around Pernambuco in the 1624-54 period. Created very efficient sugar
plantations and developed an export trade. Brazilians, not the
Portuguese, expelled them. This expulsion had two important
consequences. (1) The Dutch went to the Caribbean to produce sugar
and dislocated the Brazilian export trade. (2) That Brazilians ejected the
intruders gave rise to a sense of Brazilianism.
10. Decline of Sugar
Sugar production declined in the late 17th century partly
because of inefficient production, partly because attention came to be
focused much father south.
11. Precious Metals
The discovery and exploitation of gold, then diamonds, in Minas
Gerais beginning in 1690s and continuing into the 18th century, shifted
the locus of power to the south. Brazil became one of the world's
largest sources of gold. Population shifts from the coast to the interior to
supply the labor to produce gold. Brazil did not profit as much as it
could have, however; gold was smuggled out of Brazil in large
12. The Paulistas
Much of interior Brazil was explored and settled by the
bandeirantes, as the Paulistas from Sâo Paulo were called. In the 17th
and first half of the 18th centuries, bandeirantes made many epic
penetrations of the hinterlands. Although they sought gold and Indian
slaves, they were also laying the Brazilian claim to this territory.
13. Disputes with Spanish America
Portugal disputed with Spain over the southern boundaries of
Brazil. At stake were trade in the Río de la Plata region and the rich
grasslands in what is now Uruguay. In the 17th century, substantial
trade occurred between Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, the very
important Spanish outpost on the Rio de la Plata estuary. In 1680,
Portugal established Colônia do Sacramento in present-day Uruguay to
horn in on this trade. Spain destroyed the colony that same year but
then allowed it to be re-established in 1683. The Portuguese or
Brazilian presence was a constant thorn in the side of the Spanish
Empire. Because of the constant conflicts that occurred, the two
powers finally agreed to the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1777. That
resolved the problem until independent Buenos Aires and independent
Brazil started the fight again.
14. Crop exports
In the second half of the 18th century, there was a rise in
non-mineral exports, such as cotton. Brazil had the potential to be a
major cotton producer. Dyewood continued to play an important role in
the crop exports. Sugar was, by far, the most important crop export but
Brazil also exported some cacao.
15. Tightening the System
In the late colonial period, Portugal tightened the governmental
and mercantilist systems. The Jesuits were expelled and the Crown took
control of the Indians. Military organizations were strengthened. In
1763, the seat of the viceroy was moved from Bahia to Rio de Janeiro.
Trade regulations were strengthened in an effort to keep wealth in
16. Beginning of Dissatisfaction
In the late, late 18th century, one begins to see some colonial
disaffection with Portugal in the upper class. Part of this was the growth
of nativism, which, of course, is bigotry based on the accident of place
of birth but which is often a strong motivator among humans. Part of it
was growing self-confidence among the colonial elite who saw the
Portuguese as no better than them. This attitude increased after the
arrival of the Portuguese court in 1808. Familiarity bred contempt
among some colonials.
17. The Braganzas in Brazil
Between 1808 and 1815, the royal family, the Braganzas lived
in Brazil, having been brought there at British insistence in order to
escape being captured by Napoleon's armies. Brazil became the capital
of the Portuguese empire. Although the king moved the capital back to
Lisbon in 1815, Brazilians never forgot their importance or how much
they had come to dislike the haughty Portuguese. This experience
affected the coming of independence
Some items cannot be periodized for they were constant
throughout the colonial period. These include slavery, latifundia,
miscegenation, and the importance of the aristocracy.
General Comments about the Economy
1. It was agriculture chiefly. Most crops were food for
domestic consumption or animal feed. Sugar was
the important export crop.
2. It was dependent upon European markets for its
agricultural, pastoral, and mineral produce.
3. It used largely domestic manufactures. There was
insufficient money to buy many foreign manufactures
and those which were published tended to be for
the tiny elite.
4. It was non-innovative. Colonial Brazil was
successful in its conservatism.
5. The organization of capital was almost nonexistent.
The lack of banks persisted until the mid-
6. It suffered the same kind of competitive lag as in
7. The marketing structure was poor. Markets tended
to be localized in this vast territory. Only major port
cities had many wholesalers and retailers.
8. Transportation was dreadful. There were virtually
no roads and the rivers either ran to wrong way to
serve as transportation arteries or were, like the
Amazon River, in unpopulated areas. Colonial
Brazil hugged the coast.
9. There was low purchasing power. Slaves were paid
in kind by being given food, shelter, clothing, and
very little else. They rarely had cash. The other
poor were very poor. The money went to those
10. Brazil meant more to Portugal than Spanish
America did to Spain. By 1730, Brazil paid 30% of
taxes of the entire empire.
Some students of Brazilian history assert that its economic
history was characterized by a period of boom followed by a bust and
then a boom again. This boom-bust theory of Brazilian economic
history is overstated. The Brazil economy in the colonial period
generally increased in size; there were some periods of more rapid
growth, as there are in many economies, but there were not periods of
collapse. This will hold true for the national period.
There was no reason to predict that Brazil would remain
anything but a colony. In site of a few rumblings, the colony was placid.
It could have had a history like the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique
or Goa, remaining a colony until well into the twentieth century.
Late Colonial Change
There were attempts at directed change instituted by the
government in Spain and non-intentional change because of outside
After Philip I the monarchs were progressively worse until
Philip V, the first of the Bourbon kings of Spain. Philip was the
grandson of Louis XIV of France and had to win the War of the
Spanish Succession (1700-1713) to consolidate his position. The war
cost the Bourbons. They brought new vigor and sanity to executive
office. Philip V (1700-46) and Ferdinand VI (1746-1759) were pretty
good but Charles III (1759-1788) was very good, an enlightened
despot. There was a lot of modernization in the economic and
intellectual fields. Charles IV (1788-1808) was a poor king whose
wife's paramour, Manuel Godoy, had too much influence. Ferdinand
VII (1808-1833) was no idiot but he was a poor king.
There was a stream of intelligent and systematic examination of
the system in the 18th century. This was the influence of the
Enlightenment, the growth of belief in rationalism as the means of solving
problems. There were two periods of reform: (1700-59) and Charles
III. The first two monarchs had hard time getting people to think about
problems. Thus, the first two kings were preparatory. Most of the
drastic reforms came quite late, which is one of the reasons why they
did not get much done. Toward the end of the period, impulse from
"Age of Revolution." Both had some influence on liberal intellectuals in
America but frightened moderate reformers in Spain. The international
wars were a hindrance to reform. They cost money and drove the
Spanish government into and near bankruptcy many times. The war
costs forced Spain to do things that she did not want to do, such as
openly allowing foreign trade with America.
The reforms may also help cause the independence movement
movements of the 19th century. Historical causation is very hard to
determine with accuracy.
Spain introduced ministerial responsibility as against the
councillor form of government. Spain used a Minister of Indies instead
of the Council of Indies. This was a French idea and a partial change.
Most the administrative changes came in reign of Charles I II.
Centralization, simplification and effort at efficiency were the hallmarks
of the new regime. They were the result of (1) discussions of
intellectuals in Spain (2) inspections sent for that purpose. Jorge Juan
and Antonio de Ulloa, A Voyage to South America (1749), noted
creole dissatisfaction with Spanish government. Bernardo de Gálvez, a
visitador, noted problems
The Council of the Indies, in 1715, was changed to the
Minister of Indies but it was not until Charles I that there was an
independent, strong ministry. It was stripped of almost all functions
The Casa de Contratación was moved to Cadiz from Sevilla.
Cadiz had been in fact a partner in the system. Its functions were
reduced. Some transferred to the Ministry of the Indies. Crown
interested in centralization.
The intendancy system was adopted. It took a long time to
extend it to America. Took place of administrative subdivisions of the
audiencia. Given most of the functions of the oficiales reales. The aims
were to improve (1) defense (2) revenue, including economic
production. Intendant echelons consisted of the intendant, partidos
(subdelegados), and superintendent in big places such as Lima and
Mexico City. Intendants were rivals to the viceroys. Made standard for
America. The Crown never solved the problem of conflict of authority.
After the British captured Havana in 1762 during the Seven
Years War, the Crown installed an intendant there in 1764 as a
defensive measure. It tried them in various places in the America,
placing them all over. In Peru in 1784, there were eight intendancies and
about fifty-two partidos. The Ordenances de Intendantes are sources
of information on conditions and the thinking of the Crown. The
intendant reduced the powers of the cabildo. We do not know the
effects of this move. We do know that the system did not work a great
revolution in America. Some criollos felt threatened by intendant
Military districts or comandancias generales (general
commands) were created. An example was along the northern borders
of New Spain where the Crown created the provincias internas. In
1751, in Panama, the Crown abolished the audiencia and the created
a comandancia general of the mainland (Tierra Firme). Panama was
critically important from the military viewpoint. This event was
prompted, in part, by Admiral Vernon's attack on Cartagena in 1740.
Comandancia generales were military governments.
There were the additions of new districts because of growing
population, shifting population, and new problems. New viceroyalties
were created in 1717 in New Granada (northern South America) and
1776 in La Plata (present-day Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, and
Bolivia). The move helped. In the mid-18th century, the La Plata region
was growing rapidly and faced threats from Portuguese America. New
captaincies-general were created in Venezuela (1761), Cuba (1777),
There was a thorough discussion of the contraband problem.
The system was porous as a sponge. The Bourbons gave up the flota
system and increased the number of individual ships allowed to sail.
They used monopoly companies but they did not work very well. The
single most important change was comercio 1ibre (free trade). It has a
long history. Comercio 1ibre was instituted in a series of steps. It began
under Charles III in 1765. It allowed the major Spanish ports to trade
with the majority of Antillean ports with minimum regulations and
formalities. Gradually, it was extended until existed within the Empire. In
1789, this policy was extended to New Spain. It took the Crown so
long to make up its mind!
Comercio libre was the clearest success of all the reforms. An
increase of trade within the Empire occurred at the same time as the
institution of comercio libre. Was there a causal relationship? What
about smuggling? We only know that there was an increase in trade.
The Bourbons made taxation changes. We do not know the
effect on economic activity.
Other administrative changes included the abolition of the Casa
de Contratación in 1790 and an increased number of consulados in the
late 18th century.
The militia system was created under Charles III. When it was first
organized, anybody could be in the ranks but officers were criollos. The
criollos liked it. It gave them some prestige. Criollos being privileged
officers played an undoubted role in stimulating a sense of Americanism.
The Spanish never liked doing anything which would stimulate
Americanism. The militias were, at first, very ineffective.
Expulsion of the Jesuits
The Jesuits were expelled for political reasons. They were seen
as a threat to the state. Rationalists did not like the Jesuits, accusing
them of obscurantism, but this was not the reason they were expelled.
The government thought they blocked what Crown wanted to do. It
was a startling administrative change.
Charles III: Expulsion of the Jesuits (l767)
HAVING accepted the opinion of the members of
my Royal Council in Extraordinary, which met on
the 29th of last January for consultation concerning
past occurrences and concerning matters which
persons of the highest character have reported to
me; moved by very grave causes relative to the
obligation under which I find myself placed of
maintaining my people in subordination, tranquility,
and justice, and other urgent, just, and necessary
reasons, which I reserve in my royal mind; making
use of the supreme economical authority, which the
Almighty has placed in my hands for the protection
of my vassals, and the respect of my crown; I have
ordered that the Jesuits be expelled from all my
dominions of Spain, the Indies, and Philippine
Islands, and other adjacent regions, priests as well
as coadjutors or lay-brothers, who may have made
the first profession, and the novices, who may wish
to follow them; and that all the properties of the
Society in my dominions be taken; and for the
uniform execution of this decree throughout these
dominions I give you full and exclusive authority;
and that you may form the necessary instructions
and orders, according to your best judgment, and
what you may think the most effective, expeditious,
and peaceful method for carrying out these
instructions and orders. And I wish that not only
the magistrates and superior tribunals of these
kingdoms may execute your mandates punctually,
but that the same understanding may be entertained
concerning those which you may direct to the
viceroys, presidents, audiencias, governors,
corregidores, alcaldes mayores, and any other
magistrates of those kingdoms and provinces; and
that in response to their respective requests, all
troops, militia or civilian, shall render the necessary
assistance, without any delay or evasion, under
pain of the delinquent's falling under my royal
indignation; and I charge the provincials,
presidents, rectors, and other superiors of the
Society of Jesus to accept these provisions
punctually, and in carrying them out the Jesuits shall
be treated with the greatest regard, attention,
honesty, and assistance, so that in every respect
the action taken may be in conformity with my
sovereign intentions. You will keep this in mind for
its exact fulfillment, as I very confidently expect
from your zeal, activity, and love of my royal
service; and to this end you will give the necessary
orders and instructions, accompanying them with
copies of my royal decree, which being signed by
you shall be given the same faith and credit as the
Translation by Bernard Moses, from Bernard
Moses, Spain's Declining Power in South
America, 1730-1806 (Berkeley, Calif., 1919), pp.
There are two general views on character and effect of those
changes: (1) they were real reforms, innovative, and given decent
opportunity, they might have worked in that they would have helped to
continue empire longer. (2) They were nothing more than tinkering. This
is the prevalent view of scholars for the past 100 years.
Economic change in the late colonial period
There was not much technological innovation in production.
This was a small source of criollo dissatisfaction. Trade in 1768 was 4
million pesos per annum. By 1800, it was 6-8 million so it had grown
only 3% or less per year.
The population was increasing because, to a large degree, of
economic improvement. Wartime activity seemed to help Spanish
America. Sugar in Cuba and cattle in Argentina were late developments
with important political implications.
The Enlightenment involved the belief that reason could be used
to achieve progress. The influence of Benjamin Franklin was great.
Jerónimo Feijóo did a lot of his work in the first half of the 18th. He
climatized some of the Enlightenment ideas to the Spanish environment
to make them acceptable to Spain. People such as Feijóo hid the
foreign origins of the ideas, couching them in Spanish terms. He was a
vehicle of the Enlightenment into Spain and Spanish America.
José María Campomanes and Gaspar de Jovellanos were examples
of Enlightenment men in office. José Celestino Mutis was a Spanish
botanist who worked in New Granada, leading the Royal Botanical
Expedition to America. He taught a group of Colombians to observe
the natural environment closely.
The Spanish Crown was interested in the scientific and
technological work of the Enlightenment and thought it could keep out
new political and social ideas. The French Revolution the turning point;
it so scared the Crown that the acquisition of new ideas was
discouraged as being un-Spanish.
Some sixty Sociedades Económicas del Amigos del País were
formed in Spain between 1775 and independence and fourteen in
Spanish America in 1783-1819. They were apolitical but their focus on
local conditions and how to improve the economy inevitably led to
some dissatisfaction with the status quo. In America, the work of the
Societies encouraged Americanism as their studies made criollos realize
that they did not need Spain.
The Inquisition after 1789 especially became more and more
political. There were anachronistic institutions which were recognized as
Spain was more dubious about the Societies in America than
Spain. John Tate Lanning, in writing about the introduction of new
ideas, said that these ideas were taken in under all sorts of disguises.
They did not state the sourcesthat they were from Voltaire, Franklin,
and Rousseau, and so forth. By the end of the colonial period, the ideas
were transferred immediately. However, there were still barriers. The
Crown was displeased with the Societies' examination of local
problems, especially since they did it without supervision. The very fact
that the Societies examined local problems and made recommendations
made them a subversive force.
Colonial newspapers contributed to a sense of Americanism. They
were a focus for a discussion of the problems of isolation. They did not
have people comparable to Campomanes and Jovellanos They did not
have printed materials dealing with America. A few little ephemeral
news sheets were printed in the early 18th century such as the Gaceta
de Guatemala. But in late 1780s, in the 1790s and in the first two
decades of the 19th century, there were more. They were creole and
Enlightenment oriented and printed for a considerable period of time.
Some became controversial. One example was the Mercurio Peruano
which was published for four years in the 1790. It was a creole
publication sponsored by the local Society members and Enlightenment
members. A friar, just arrived from the Philippines, criticized Peru and
criollos. The Mercurio Peruano replied and engaged in debate with the
During the French Revolution, the Crown suspended
publication because of a "paper shortage." The printer replied that it
was another attempt to shut up consideration of new ideas. The
majority of the literate population was indifferent or opposed to new
ideas. It is possible, however, that a lot just said nothing. The Crown
did not like the aggregation of power in private groups, especially if they
engaged in criticism.
The Gaceta de Guatemala held an essay contest on the
question of whether Indians should wear Spanish clothing. Articles were
written by Sociedad members. They were concerned that encouraging
the Indians to dress like Spaniards might encourage integration, which
"white" society opposed.
In the latter part of the 18th century, colonials got pretty excited
about the argument that men could not live in the tropics, that the
American climate and diet caused America to be a cultural desert. This
was not an uncommon attitude among metropolitan countries towards
their colonies; after all, what self-respecting person would want to leave
the mother country and all its refinements to live in a “primitive” colony.
This is pure egotism. Criollos resented that assertion, rightfully, since it is
scientifically wrong. This became an issue in Peru.
Lots of work has been done on this subject and there are plenty of
records. It is difficult hard to find records that show why or how people
thought. How many tumults? A lot. What does it mean? Focusing on
tumults creates a biased understanding of life. People tend to report
excitement or upheavals not things that are calm. The control of the
upper class was very firm. Do not get attempted revolutions, for the
tumults were riots. There was no pattern but in late colonial period one
does begin to see something more closely approaching a pattern. There
were more, bigger, and with a high frequency. Why? Precursors acted
on the basis of these.
Some of these late colonial tumults were:
$ Yucatán Indians created a kingship as a result of
complaints, trying to get away from the tribute system,
the system of justice, and the Christian church.
$ In Paraguay there was the revolt of the comuneros,
townsmen revolting against the centralization of
$ In the Colombian province of Socorro in 1781, there
was a protest against new taxes and the collection
practices of the visitador. The criollo leaders, aided by
mestizos, threw out the Spanish officials and elected a
junta. They then marched to Bogotá to oust the
governor but they dispersed after the archbishop
persuaded them that reforms would be made. Then the
Crown jailed some of the leaders and sought out other
$ Tupac Amarú II, born José Gabriel Condorcanqui, was
an educated Indian and direct descendant of the Inca.
He opposed the suppression of the Indians. When new
taxes were imposed, he seized a corregidor and
executed him. He adopted the name Tupac Amarú and
called upon Indians, mestizos, zambos, criollos, and
slaves to join him in driving the Spanish out. The
rebellion lasted from 1780 to 1783. The upper class
(Spanish and Indian) closed ranks as well as most
mestizos. The Spaniards feared a race war. He was
caught, mutilated, and executed in 1781; his body parts
were displayed in various towns to discourage possible
rebellion. His Indian followers continued the bloody
rebellion until finally defeated.
Societies like these must breed extreme cruelty among ruling
class. They ordered the destruction of the Indian past. They
discouraged the wearing of Indian dress, for example. They tried to
destroy a sense of Indian consciousness. Indians tended to associate the
suppression of their revolts with the peninsulares, not the criollos, and
thus tended to support the criollos during the wars of independence.
There is lots written, especially in Spanish, on the subject. They
helped to bring about independence but they did not play much of a role
themselves. Antonio Nariño in Bogotá, Colombia, influenced by the
Enlightenment, printed a copy of The Rights of Man in Spanish in
1794. He started giving them away, and was caught. He was convicted.
He escaped and distributed them again. He was caught and escaped
again. His work is known in many places.
Francisco Javier Eugenio de Santa Cruz y Espejo deserves to
be better known. He was a casta from a poor family but he managed to
go to a university in Quito. In the late colonial period, he wrote things
about his objections to the way things were done. He laughed at the
clergy and civil authority. He got mixed up with the local Economic
Society and published a periodical. It was the springtime of Quito. He
was arrested and imprisoned for his actions.
Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan born of a Spanish father,
went to Spain at the age of 21 and became an army officer. He soon
was reading the works of the philosophes of the Enlightenment and
became a radical. He went to the West Indies in 1780. Perhaps the fact
that he was falsely accused of smuggling and treasonable behavior, he
fled to the United States in 1783. Although subsequently exonerated by
the Consejo de los Indias, he sought the political independence of
Spanish America. He consulted with Americans, British, Frenchmen,
exiles, in fact anyone who would listen and might be interested in
helping. Leaving Europe in 1805 after more than twenty years in exile,
he went back to the United States. In February 1806, he sailed on the
Leander, picking up two more ships in Santo Domingo, and arrived in
Venezuela where his small fleet was met by the Spanish, who captured
two of his ships. He escaped to Barbados and got the help of Lord
Cochrane (who became deeply involved in various New World
independence movements. He went back to Venezuela, captured a fort
and town, and found the population indifferent. He went to Trinidad and
then England late in 1807. There he conferred with Simón Bolívar, a
fellow Venezuelan who would go on to liberate northern South
America. The two traveled home late in 1810 and, once there, pushed
for independence. The congress that they had called declared
independence and wrote a constitution. The Spanish fought back,
however. After the loss of Battle of Puerto Bello, Miranda signed a
capitulation. Bolívar, believing he had betrayed the movement, caught
him and turned him over to the Spanish. He died in a Spanish prison.
Independence would come with the Napoleonic Wars and the
Spanish constitutional crisis of 1808. It would be led by criollos, many
of whom had been militia officers, supported by mestizos, blacks, and
Indians. Probably more people wanted to keep the Spanish Crown than
wanted to run it out of the New World. The independence movements
were minority affairs. Most people knew nothing about the causes or
the rationale or the actions of the precursors. The key to Spain keeping
its vast empire for 300 years, longer than any other modern empire, was
the loyalty of its upper class.
Period of the Imperial Crisis
The affairs of the Spanish Empire were tremendously
complicated by international wars and revolutions. The French
Revolutionary-Napoleonic wars lasted from 1792 until 1815, an
extremely long time. Spain foolishly joined these wars on different sides
at different times but primarily as an ally of the French. The wars were
costly and destroyed communications. Spain had a difficult time paying
for them and lost territory because of its participation. The French
Revolution and its wars turned things topsy turvy. One consequence
was the Haitian revolt, which scared the hell out of other slave owners.
During the Napoleonic phase of these wars, Spain suffered badly.
Even before the Imperial Crisis, Spain was in trouble in the
colonies. The British conquered South Africa. Admiral Homes Popham
and Colonel William Carr Beresford sailed from South Africa and
attacked the viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata (Montevideo and Buenos
Aries) in 1806. After initial victories in Buenos Aries, they were driven
out by porteños, as the inhabitants of the city were called. The next year
Lieutenant-General John Whitelocke invaded but withdrew after f ierce
resistance by the porteños. That the viceregal government did little to
defend the city of Buenos Aires created dissension among the porteños,
for they, not the Spanish, had protected the city from the British.
Effectively, Buenos Aires was independent from this time onwards. In
fact, the cabildo deposed Viceroy Sobremonte and chose Santiago
Liniers, a Frenchman, to take his place. It was Liniers who persuaded
Whitelocke to surrender before his troops were slaughtered.
In spite of these difficulties, the colonies were still loyal to the
Spanish Crown. That was soon to change.
Imperial Crisis, 1808-1814
Napoleonic troops passed through Spain in 1807 during their
invasion of Portugal, Britain's ally, and narrowly missed capturing the
Portuguese royal family. It and its retainers had escaped on British ships
to Brazil. Charles IV and Godoy considered fleeing but did not.
By a secret convention reached at Fontainebleau in October
1807, Spain agreed to support France against Portugal. A palace
revolution on March 19th deposed King Charles IV and his favorite,
Godoy, and placed his son, Ferdinand VII, the instigator, on the throne.
Taking advantage of the ensuing machinations and bitterness between
the two factions, Napoleon got the two kings to come to Bayonne,
France, and had them agree that Joseph Bonaparte, his brother, would
be king. This produced a constitutional crisis. Who should the Spanish
obey? Meanwhile, the Spanish common people refused to accept
Napoleon's puppet and fought guerrillas (little wars) to drive the French
imperial army out of Spain. These guerrilleros tied down hundreds of
thousands of French troops and were soon supported by British troops.
The constitutional crisis interrupted communications and
connections between Spain and America. Some colonials began using
the independent realms argument, that they had a common king with
Spain but were not colonies, per se. They said they were reynos,
kingdoms, just as Castile and Aragón were. For example, in 1810, the
Buenos Aires junta voted that the Rio de la Plata "kingdom" was equal
to the other kingdoms. A few accepted Joseph Bonaparte but there
was not much sympathy for the French and their advanced ways in
Spanish territories. Most argued that the government had to be
preserved for the legitimate king, Ferdinand but some of those really
wanted more autonomy and, even, independence.
In Spain, 1808-10 were the most important years. The
constitutional connection was interrupted and the Americans had not yet
begun to act on independence. The period of crisis was over at different
times in different places. We do not know what would have happened if
the Spanish Crown had been more liberal. Charles IV was stupid and
stolid; Ferdinand VII was stupid and active. Manuel de Godoy, Charles
IV's chief minister, ran the government under Charles. Godoy was the
lover of the queen. His running of the government caused some
dissatisfaction in both Spain and Spanish America. It created some
contempt for the government and was one of the reasons Ferdinand
garnered support for the overthrow of his father.
Napoleon created the Statute of Bayonne on 8 July 1808. It
equalized taxation, abolished torture, reduced church and feudal rights;
and instituted other liberal measures. It gave representation to America
and the Philippines. Napoleon was a great believer in constitutions. The
Bonaparte constitution had over one hundred Spanish collaborators but
essentially was the work of Napoleon. It contained moderate liberal
ideas of law and equality of taxation. The privileged did not like it, of
course. The people of Spain were uninterested in the Bayonne
document, for it was an imposed French document.
In Spain, juntas were formed, the most important of which was
the Junta Suprema Centrativa Gubernativa de España e Indias (Central
and Governing Junta of Spain and the Indies) in Sevilla. An 1809
decree granted 9 members of the Ultramarine (the colonials) the right to
be members of the Central Junta. Spain had 39. This created some
dissatisfaction on the part of the colonials because, in an earlier decree,
the Americans had equal representation with Spain. Its consistency was
questioned. Other juntas were created around the monarchy.
The Spanish juntas asked the colonies to join them but the New
World colonies argued for criollo equality. The Spanish did not mean
that! The colonies created their own juntas which then assumed
governing authority in the name of Ferdinand VII. When the Junta
Centrativa tried to assert authority over the colonials, the latter refused.
In 1810, the central junta was replaced by the Cortés, the Spanish
parliament, which it had called. The Cortés began meeting in
September in Cádiz. The Cortés, unrepresentative of all political
opinions in Spain, was radical and called for equal treatment for the
Americans, the end of Indian tribute, a free press, and such. The central
Junta was pushed by the French to Cádiz on the coast. It created the
Council of Regency and dissolved itself. The Council was conservative.
Elite Spaniards disagreed as to what the government should do
and who could participate. The Junta, Cortés, and the Council of
Regency all three had American representatives. Who they should be
and how much power they should have was never solved to satisfaction
of the Americans, for the Spanish always wanted control.
Floridablanca, a man of Enlightenment as far as economics, was scared
silly of the French Revolution and led the conservatives in the Central
Junta. The liberals were led by Jovellanos, who was an upper class
partisan of monarchic government. The liberal faction was a small
minority but became more influential as time went on. Got more and
more radical and, therefore, out of touch with Spanish reality. There
was real fear of undercutting the monarchy. They permitted the Jesuits
to return, stopped the change in church land ownership, and restricted
the press. The Central Junta was more conservative than the Regency.
Cortés and Constitution
A number of places in America drew up instructions for their
delegates. Socorro, Colombia issued decrees to emancipate slaves and
to allow unrestricted commerce (indicative). One of the clear results of
independence was the liberation of slaves. This indicates that somebody
had been reading the writings of the Enlightenment. They advocated the
extension of education (conservatives opposed this). They spoke of the
"ideas of humanity." Some colonies sent no representatives. The big
problem was that America only had 9 representatives. The Central
Junta was the most recognized in America, then the Council of
Regency, and then the Cortés.
The Council of Regency had only five American members. It
freed labor more than the other institutions but it sent out warnings
against Frenchmen. Historically, the Spanish upper class and many
other Spaniards were xenophobic.
In May, 1809, the Junta Central approved the meeting of the
Cortés but the Council of Regency delayed calling it. There was lots of
discussions within the Council. What was the legality of calling one and
its possible powers were important topics. It called by estates (roughly,
social classes) which were going to meet separately (the clergy and the
nobility saw themselves as superior to everyone else), but, after an
argument, the upper classes decided to meet with the others. The
meeting of the Cortés stirred up beliefs that created a lot of debate and
the passage of many laws. There was an election by each town council
of partidos. The American delegates were selected from residents in
Spain. Americans wanted equal representation with Spain. Three
hundred deputies in all. It began meeting in September, 1810. Eleven
propositions were made. End of restrictions; equality of the colonials,
abolition of the Inquisition were among those passed. This was radical
legislation for Spain.
Constitution of 1812
The Constitutional Committee met in December, 1810. It
consisted of 6 liberals, 1 independent, and 7 absolutists. In August,
1811 made its first proposal. Constitution was published in March,
1812. It was signed by 134 peninsular members and 51 Americans and
Filipinos. It created a unicameral legislative (Cortés) body which would
meet annually. Indirect elections were held to become a member. It had
broad powers. It gave the king a suspensive veto instead of an absolute
veto. The King's orders had to be counter-signed by a Spanish minister.
It declared that sovereignty essentially resided in the nation. The
Constitution was abortive, however.
Napoleon lost and Ferdinand VII came back to rule. Although
he promised to be bound by it, he soon repudiated the Constitution of
1812. He began to backtrack in an effort to restore the absolute
monarchy. Repudiation came with a dull thud in America.
Because of the 1820 revolt in Spain, Ferdinand agreed to
restore the Constitution but sought French help to quash the rebellion.
The conservative Concert of Europe agreed to French military invention
to restore Ferdinand's full powers. Restored, Ferdinand adopted
absolutism again. He made a concerted effort to regain the American
colonies but it was too late. Too many were too accustomed to running
their own affairs by 1823. Even Mexico, a conservative nation, had
successfully revolted in 1821 rather than be part of a liberal Spain. Had
they waited, Spain would have been conservative again in a few years
but that was not the point. Neither conservatives nor liberals wanted to
take orders from Spain. Moreover, Spain could not have done much.
The British used their control of the high seas to prevent other European
nations from interfering.
For the sake of convenience, independence will be treated in four parts.
The military part will be treated first because it is applicable too all of
Latin America. Then this chapter will examine South American
independence, followed my Mexican independence. Because New
Spain was the most important of Spain’s colonies and because the early
problems of the Mexican nation are illustrative of many of the problems
of these newly-emerging nations, special attention is given to Mexico.
Military Aspects of Latin American Independence
There is a lot we do not know about the military aspects. One
has to understand the military aspects to understand the independence
movements as well as the early national histories of the Spanish
American republics. The wars on the whole and in comparison to the
United States independence movement (1) lasted longer and (2) were
more brutal. The military side affected social conditions more than in
the United States.
The fighting fell into two periods: (1) 1810-1816. In some
places it appeared that the Spanish were winning at the end, and (2)
1817-1824 when the Americans were winning.
General Pablo Morillo headed the Spanish army sent to New
Granada (Venezuela-Colombia-Panama-Ecuador). He defeated patriot
armies in the first period.
The military struggle to become independent of Spain was not
important in Río de la Plata, Mexico, Central America, and the
Caribbean islands. There was not prolonged fighting against royal
forces. There were fights among the criollos in these non-military areas,
Patriots versus Royalists.
Northern South America was Bolívar's area of operations.
Southern South America was San Martin’s area of operations. The
outcome of these struggles important to other areas. José de San Martín
was aware that the fighting outside the La Plata region would save the
La Plata from fighting. This was true elsewhere.
Bolívar fought in more areas than San Martín. He also had a
political career, which San Martín did not. He is the most revered of all
Latin American independence leaders.
The situation in north South America begins in 1810 with the
ousting of the Captain General and the organization of a junta in
Caracas. The junta made a declaration of loyalty to Ferdinand V11.
This was a creole action. They centralized power in the capital. Political
affairs moved to the left as time passed. They issued a Declaration of
Independence in 1811. In 1810, Bolívar went to England; met
Francisco de Miranda in the United Kingdom. Bolívar and Miranda
returned to Venezuela together. Bolívar was commander in chief.
The influence of the March,1812 Caracas earthquake, which
the royalists declared was the wrath of God because of the rebellion,
was important. Venezuela was one of the places where the common
man could be persuaded to fight on either side.
Miranda capitulated, causing a dispute within patriot forces.
Bolívar handed over Miranda as one of the conditions of his escape.
Bolívar was an upper-class criollo (creole). He became
interested in the ideas of the Enlightenment. The Imperial Crisis in Spain
was seen as an opportunity for these young men. They desired to run
their own affairs. They recognized the difficulties involved in military
Bolívar was in and out of Curaçao and New Granada a number
of times. He found Antonio Nariño in Colombia. In 1813, his army
invaded Venezuela. The fighting got worse and worse and became a
war to the death. Bolívar finally decided to proclaim the "Guerra al
muerte" to get people off the fence. There were atrocities on both sides
in the wars. The social developments from the military sides of the Wars
of Independence more revolutionary in the American Revolution. He
had to escape to the Caribbean. Bolívar had a tendency towards
dictatorship. The Prophetic Letter contains a lot of his political ideas;
written in Jamaica when he was in exile.
The Haitian president supplied him with money and supplies. He
returned to Venezuela and declared the slaves free. This did not rally
anyone, so he left. In 1817, he returned and went into the interior to
Angostura. He joined forces with the llanero, José Antonio Páez.
Bolívar's forces and this cowboy's forces hit from the rear. They spent
time in the organization of their forces and planning. It took at least two
years to plan and organize.
In 1819, they scaled the Colombian Andes in a surprise move
and beat a Spanish army at Boyacá. In 1820, the Spanish revolt at
Cádiz caused a division within the royal forces. The liberal government
in Spain ordered an armistice. In 1821, Bolívar broke the armistice and
beat the Spanish army at Carabobo.
Bolívar now switched his attention westward. He stopped
when he had to. He sent an army under Antonio José de Sucre by sea
from the west coast of New Granada to Guayaquil [Ecuador]. In the
meantime, Bolívar marched south by land. It took a long time. Sucre
took care of the problem of Cuzco. Sucre and Bolívar won the Battle
of Pichinchi (May 1822), thus securing Ecuador. In 1822, Bolívar and
San Martín (who was proceeding from the south) met in Guayaquil. No
one knows what transpired during this interview for they were alone
and kept no notes. [There have been a lot of forged documents of this
meeting.] San Martín withdrew his forces and eventually went to
Europe. Peru went to Bolívar but he had to persuade the Bogotá
government to allow him to take the army to Peru. He was convinced
that he was needed there. At the battle of Ayacucho, December 1824,
he defeated a royalist army, thus breaking the power if the royalists in
The first military action of the porteños (people who lived in the
city of Buenos Aires) was driving British armies out of the city in 1806
and 1807. By May, 1810, they were actually independent. The
porteños then tried to incorporate Paraguay into their orbit but the
Paraguayans successfully resisted. Belgrano's army, sent by Buenos
Aires, was defeated in 1810 by Paraguayan and peninsular forces.
Under the leadership of Dr. Gaspar Rodríguez Francia, the criollos of
Paraguay beat Spanish armies, Portuguese-Brazilian armies, and
Buenos Aires armies. The Paraguayans were fiercely independent and
would remain so. For decades, Francia would govern the new nation.
The criollos of the Banda Oriental (Uruguay) wanted to run
their own affairs. The independence movement was led by in José
Artigas. They managed to stay out of both Brazil and the newly
emerging Argentine nation. However, it took the British intervention
years later in 1828 before it was truly independent.
José de San Martín, born in 1778 in Argentina, spent time in
Spain where he served in the Spanish army from 1791 until 1811. He
returned to Buenos Aires in 1812 and joined the independence
movement. He defeated the Spaniards in 1813, and then succeeded
Belgrano as commander in chief the next year. He moved to Cuyo
province to organize an army to invade Chile and defeat the Spanish.
San Martín believed that Spanish armies had to be driven off the
continent if the former colonies were to remain independent. He did not
get much help from Buenos Aires, however; The porteños
underestimated the threat from Spain. Chilean exiles joined his army.
In 1817, San Martín led his army across the Andes, scaling the
incredible heights, and defeated the Spanish at Chacabuco and
captured Santiago. He defeated another Spanish army at Maipú in
1818, thus guaranteeing Chilean independence.
Spanish armies were still in Peru, so he took the fight there. He
hired the British ex-naval commander Lord Thomas Cochrane to fight
the Spanish off the Chilean and Peruvian coast in 1819. Then, in 1820,
Cochrane ferried San Martín's army to Peru. By 1821, he was able to
declare Peru independent of Spain. He declared himself "Protector of
Peru," a dictator, but he resigned in 1822 to give control to Bolívar. He
went back to Buenos Aires, then sailed for Europe in 1824. When he
returned in 1829, he met such a cold reception that he went back to
Europe, having never left the ship. He died in France in 1850. It was
only after Bartolomé Mitre did his biography that his contributions were
Very little work has been done on the fighting in general. There is a
tremendous amount of individual work on individual battles. Things that
need to be known include: casualties, financing, strength and distribution
of forces, personnel and recruitment system, organization and
administration of commands, training, strategy, tactics, fortifications,
intelligence, procurement of materials, uniforms, the logistical systems
such as mail, the control of thievery and the effect of thievery on
operations, pillaging, rape, communications, and the caring for the sick
and wounded. In short, a lot of good military histories are needed.
Latin America did not get as much help as United States
forebears did. Many European nations had supported the American
revolt against Great Britain because they wanted to reduce British
power. This was very true of the French. The Latin American
independence movements began during the Napoleonic Wars, which
preoccupied Europe, and ended at a time when European nations were
exhausted from those wars and not so inclined to get involved. Besides
Britain, which controlled the seas, would not allow another European
nation intervene in the America.
The wars of independence were more of a civil war than the
American Revolution was. Although conservatives (Tories) fought for
the Crown during the American war, there were not as many,
proportionately, as there were royalists fighting for the Spanish Crown.
The Spanish had an impossible problem. The sheer size of the
territories they were trying to hold was against them, for they had to
face rebellion on two continents. The Spanish American patriots were
favored by the technology of the times. Even a very modern, highly
technological army like that of the United States could not win in
Vietnam, a small place, against determined local resistance. The Spanish
simple could not put enough troops on the ground or use enough
firepower to overcome their foes.
The casualties were higher than in the American Revolution. At
the Battle of Maipú, Chile, there were 5,000 on each side with about
2,500 killed. Royalists were drastically defeated and pursued. At the
Battle of Carabobo about 6,000 patriots and 5,000 royalists fought;
two hundred patriots killed. Among the royalists, 40% were killed,
wounded or captured. Casualty rates of 20% were common but often
Financing was a problem. Bolívar's problems were greater than
George Washington's. Bolívar had to chase money and resort to
expropriation. Bolívar corresponded a lot about the desperate money
situation. Although Washington had money problems, the Continental
Congress represented all the colonies in revolt and could supply him
They had to learn from experience. Only some officers had
militia experience but that experience did not include much fighting and,
when it did, not against a European army. Some of the most effective
officers rose from the lower ranks of society. They knew how to kill
and get others to do it as well, not skills inherited from one’s parents
The rebel effort lacked staff officers. Good staff officers
anticipate the needs of the leader and the unit.
Jealousy among top officers were serious. Some were personal
jealousies. Others were regional jealousies. These were complicated by
the presence of foreign officers. The class structure problem was not
great because there were not many lower-class officers.
Pay and Recruitment
José Antonio Páez, leader of llaneros, had a bodyguard, El
Negro Primo, who had fought with the royalists first, was asked why;
he answered "greed." He had nothing when he joined the first army he
saw. Most soldiers never got paid in money. Páez and many other
commanders let them loot. There were a fair number of blacks serving
in the armed forces as well as mestizos and Indians. There were
probably 5,000 foreign soldiers altogether but never more than 1,200 at
any one time. Foreign troops were better disciplined than militia.
In connection with brutality, it was settled policy a good part of
time to slaughter the defeated and even non-combatants at times. In
regards intelligence, it was amazing the effect of not knowing what was
going on. It made the execution of tactics more difficult.
Is the present military role a product of the independence
period? No. Latin America would have had military interference in
politics today without the wars of independence because of the nature
of Spanish society. The Spanish American colonies inherited from the
colonial period the sort of society in which force was used or threatened
and accepted by all parts of the population. The temptation to use force
was irresistible because it was so obvious that it might (or probably
would) succeed. All of this was exaggerated by what happened during
the wars of independence.
The wars did give some opportunities to lower-class people
who had the right glandular balance or drive and ambition. The upper
class leaders had to make promises to get support from the lower
classes for the war effort. They had to recruit them to the cause. Some
of those recruited were able to rise in status because of their role in the
wars. They were given or took command positions. Once they rose to
positions of power, they forgot their humble origins and adopted upper
class views. That, of course, is a main reason for their behavior in the
Effect of experience on ideas:
Many military men came to despise civilians. They were fed up
with fence-sitting, fickleness, and few amounts of money for the cause.
Civilians wanted to debate; military men wanted to act.
Some people became excited about running things through a
military command system or the desire to organize society on military
lines. Bolívar was not the only soldier who decided that dictatorship
was the only solution to what he considered anarchy..
Plunder, power, respect, and excitement were desires or tastes
developed among the military. Soldiers seemed to be favored by
women more so than civilians.
The brutality of the wars caused the brutality of the period
afterwards. Too many people developed a taste for brutality or,
because the fighting lasted so long in some places, became accustomed
The revolt in Haiti was different in some respects from those in
Spanish America. It was a very rich French colony. Its wealth based
on sugar and slavery. In 1789, it had 41,000 whites, mostly Frenchmen,
26,000 free blacks and mulattos, and 440,000 black slaves. In March,
1790, the French National Convention declared Haiti an integral part of
the French empire and authorized it to create a provincial assembly. In
1790, people of color (gens de coleur) provoked a slave rebellion.
Many whites were killed. In 1793, the French revolutionary government
abolished the slave trade, followed by the 1794 abolition of slavery.
Whites in the southern part of the country got the British and Spanish to
invade. They fought from 1793 to 1796. Nearly all the whites died.
Also, the blacks and mulattos began disagreeing. Toussaint
L'Ouverture, a rich, propertied, and educated ex-slave and Jean
Jacques Dessalines, an ex-slave from Africa, fought the mulattos and
In 1801, they adopted a constitution adopted and
independence was declared. Toussaint L'Overture declared himself
president for life. Napoleon sent his brother-in-law, LeClerc, with an
army to put down the revolt. LeClerc tricked Toussaint and shipped
him to France. Dessalines, who ran the northern part of the
independence movement, continued the battle against the French.
Dessalines, a black, was monarchical. He made people work. The
southern part was mulatto and controlled by André Rigaud. It was
freer. He permitted the division of estates, which resulted in the extreme
division into tiny plots. This destroyed the sugar economy there. The
peasants wanted their own land. LeClerc was beaten by the Haitians
and disease. In November, 1803 he surrendered. The next year,
Dessalines declared independence, now confined to the western part of
the island because the French (and later, the Spanish) controlled the
rest. Dessalines proclaimed himself emperor for life in 1806 but was
soon killed trying to put down a rebellion. Henri Christophe now
became the ruler of north Haiti.
South American Independence
1. There was a contest between monarchialism and
republicanism. Most conservatives wanted to stay with
what they knew, monarchy, but some wanted a republic
just as some liberals desired monarchy. The issue was
complicated by the fact that no European royal family
wanted to replace the Bourbons.
2. In almost every country but especially the larger ones,
there was the issue of whether there should be a strong
central government or whether sovereignty should be
split among the national government and the various
states. Centralism versus federalism was not a simple
issue. In Mexico, it was a liberal-conservative split but
in Argentina it was a split between the port of Buenos
Aires, which was internationally-minded, and the
hinterland. In addition, federalists tended to be
centralizers when they reached power.
3. There were arguments as to how oligarchical
government and society should be. This was true even
for the “democratic” forces because they did not
believe the majority should rule.
4. Regionalism and nationalism on had a profound effect
on politics. The distinction between a region and a
nation can be artificial. For example, Gran Colombia
was a “nation” but this region became three different
What was once New Granada is usually spoken of as Gran
Colombia. It consisted of three parts: Venezuela, Colombia, and
The 1810 cabildo abierto in Caracas ousted the captain-general
and created a junta to rule for Ferdinand VII. This junta encouraged the
formation of other juntas in Venezuela. In March, 1811, a recently-
elected congress declared independence. Spain sent troops to put
down the rebellion, an effort aided by the March, 1812 Caracas
earthquake which the royalists declared was the wrath of God. Bolívar
brought an army back into Venezuela in late 1812 and fought to bloody
victories. He declared a "war to the death" and ordered his troops to
shoot all Spanish prisoners. He moved his battle into neighboring
Colombia. By 1814, he was dictator of the second Venezuelan
republic. Spanish troops under Pablo Morillo appeared to have broken
the back of creole resistance by 1816. Bolívar fled to the Caribbean but
returned late that year. The fighting continued. He tried to find a political
instrument that would gain support for the independence movement and
he modified it through necessity and from experience.
In 1819, from the Angostura Conference came the
pronouncement of Bolívar's Gran Colombia system. This system was
promoted again at Cúcuta in 1821. The Conference presented a
constitution which centralized power in Bogotá. It established a
bicameral congress. Bolívar, a Venezuelan, was named president and a
Colombian, Francisco Santander was named Vice President in an
attempt to reduce or eliminate regional rivalry. There was a contest for
several years between Santander and Bolívar. The government was
established in Bogotá.
Bolívar went to Ecuador and was also working in Peru and
Bolivia. For a while, he tried to unify on Venezuela, Colombia,
Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia but this union covered too much territory and
communication was very poor. The élites of the respective countries did
not think they had anything in common. Bolívar's absence from Bogotá
a was a problem since he could not head off problems. In 1826, he
went back to Bogotá.
There was a tremendous amount of fighting about taxes.
Governments were terribly inefficient and corrupt, which made the issue
of taxes even more difficult to resolve.
Venezuela begin to pull out of this loose federation under Páez.
Bolívar tried to stop it but failed. Bolívar set up a dictatorship at Ocana
(1828). There were too many objections to this kind of system, this
Bolívar progressively became more conservative and
disillusioned. He commented that he had been trying to "plow the sea."
Although he was very pessimistic, he tried to accomplish things that no
one could have accomplished. He was a man of tremendous vision.
He came to believe that Spanish America had to be governed
on an oligarchic basis because of the nature of society. Bolívar's
experience in some way was typical of what happened to young creoles
who went into the independence movement idealistic about government
and came out disillusioned. Bolívar thought that monarchy would not
work given the social and political conditions and ideas of the early 19th
century. He believed in natural aristocracy although he would include
more people than the aristocracy of the colonial period.
Bolívar wrote the Constitución Vitálicia for Bolivia and became
its life president, a dictator. His subordinate, General Antonio Sucre,
had named the country for Bolívar after conquering from the Spanish.
Bolivians did not like this constitution or Bolívar or Sucre and forced
The position of Church in relation to government was
interesting. The clergy lost some of their political power from the
independence movements but retained enough for the Church-State
conflicts of the 19th century. Bolívar was a Deist. He thought the
Church would lose more power than it did. Anarchy was one of the
things that Bolívar came to hate the most.
The United States constitution was Bolívar's greatest political
enemy. Before he finished, he disliked federalism. In his 1812
pamphlet "To the Citizens of New Granada from a Citizen of Caracas,"
he argued that what weakened the Venezuela government the most was
federalism. He said it reduced the nation to anarchy.
Río de La Plata
As we have seen, in 1806, a British army from South Africa
invaded Buenos Aires. In 1810, the vecinos of Buenos Aires created a
junta. They governed their own affairs from that time onwards. This was
really the start of independence in the Viceroyalty of La Plata. In 1816,
independence was declared.
The first source on controversy was the rivalry between the port
of Buenos Aires and the surrounding countryside. There was forty years
of rivalry before it was brought under control. At the heart of this rivalry
was, first, the normal human interest in desire to run one's own affairs
and, second, disagreements about economic policy. The port of Buenos
Aires wanted free trade in international commerce whereas the
provinces did not. The provinces sold some manufactured goods (such
as textiles and whine) Buenos Aires. Free trade would destroy this
trade because they could not compete against imported goods from
The second was between the oligarchy and those who wanted a
broader base in government. This caused civil war but a considerable
amount of oligarchic opinion tended to predominate. The upper classes
did lose titles of nobility, slavery, and entail but they retained a great
Mariano Moreno, a creole, was an important figure. He
argued that sovereignty resides essentially in the people and had
returned to the people because of inadequate representation in
resistance governments. Moreno gave intellectual justification to the
The history of nationalism was important for it tells us about the
colonial period. There was nationalism when people began calling
themselves Americans. Many would say "Spain is lost; let us save
Not many people were involved in the independence
movement. In 1810, the whole viceroyalty may have had fewer than a
million people. Buenos Aires had about 45,000 people of whom one
third were blacks. By the census of 1869, Argentina still only had 1.8
million people. This limited what one could do. For the first forty years,
Buenos Aires was the nation.
Creoles had a tremendous amount of information about what
was going on in the Western world. There were lots of copies of the
United States constitution of 1787 in Buenos Aires in the independence
There were a great many different governments between 1810
and the 1820s. None worked very well in the sense that they were able
to maintain public order and stimulate the economy. The government of
Juan Manual Rosas (1829-1852) did these things. The differences in
opinions and interests and the communication difficulties meant
problems could not be solved.
Buenos Aires wanted to include Paraguay but Buenos Aires
armies were defeated by royalists and later by Paraguayans. Paraguay
was a backwater and had been throughout the colonial period. It
contained between 100,000 and 200,000 people. Only two natives of
the area had been educated outside of the province. The intellectual
changes of life in the colonial period had not touched Paraguay.
Dr. José Gaspar Rodríguez Francia (E1 Supremo) ruled the
country until 1841; he was followed by Carlos A. López (1841-1862).
Francisco Solano López (son of Carlos) ruled from 1862 until 1870.
These dictators benefited from Paraguayans preferred isolation, having
an intense love of their own area and a distaste for everything outside.
Francia, an intelligent, educated, and tough man understood that, to
protect Paraguay was to isolate it. If Paraguay dealt with the outside
world, it would have to make concessions. Francia had the urge to run
things and he was not willing to make any concessions. What kind of
control does one need in a place like this? Francia had an army of
6,000 men. He was not using force, primarily, to maintain control.
It could not have had much experience in government until 1828
because before that it was an area contested by Argentina, Brazil,
foreigners, and dissident Uruguayans. It suffered a tremendous amount
of military activity.
It knew a great deal of internecine warfare. Chileans were the
first to clearly come out of the initial period of troubles and to establish a
viable republic. What Chilenos did could have been done elsewhere.
Because of achieving political stability early, it managed a great leap
forward in economic development and improvements in social
From 1808 to 1811, there were various juntas. Chilean creoles
objected to the American representation in the Cortés. In 1810-1811, a
radical faction demanded all kinds of changes such as secular
cemeteries, a constitution, and the extension of public education. José
Miguel de Carrera called in 1811 for representative government with no
class basis. This was radical. Carrera was the dictator between 1811
and 1813. His family were rivals of the Bernardo O'Higgins family for
political power. In 1813, radical Chileans offered a new plan for public
primary education. Immediately, there were people advocating
measures which conservatives considered radical. These way out
measures (such a free public education) encouraged factionalism. The
radicals were usually the minority. Bernardo O'Higgins, who was the
great Chilean leader of independence, was driven out of politics for
trying to push radical measures too hard.
A royalist army from Lima defeated the initial government and
O'Higgins and Carrera fled to San Martín across the Andes. The
combined Chilean-Argentine army came back across the Andes in
1818 and defeated the Spanish at the Battle of Maipú. Chile was free
and O’Higgins was a hero.
O'Higgins became the dictatorial president When he issued
decrees attacking the Church and the property, he was thrown out.
Chile continued having governmental instability until Diego Portales in
Independence of Brazil
Joaquim José da Silva Xavier (also know as Tiradentes
because he was a dentist at times), a military officer, led a revolt (the
Inconfidência Mineira) in 1789 which failed. He was representing
discontented prominent people in Minas Gerais. They went to jail or left
the country but he was executed in 1793. Nevertheless, he was
eventually seen as a martyr to Brazilian independence. Insurrections
broke out in Rio de Janeiro in 1794, in Bahia in 1798, and in
Pernambuco in 1801,but all of these rebellions were repressed before
they could seriously threaten the monarchy.
Besides revolts, there were other signs of dissatisfaction.
Azeredo Continho published The Economy of Brazil in 1794; the
English edition appeared in 1807. In it he described the colony's
resources but expressed discontent with the existing system. He
complained about the salt monopolies and about the price structure,
which, of course, was related to the productive system. The town
council of Bahía heard numerous complaints and believed it necessary
to pass them upwards. There was dissatisfaction with economic policy.
And, of course, there was tension between Portuguese and Brazilians,
especially between Portuguese and Brazilians of Portuguese descent.
This ethnic tension would be exacerbated after the influx of Portuguese
in 1808. The turning point came when the prince regent and
future king João VI and 15,000 Portuguese arrived in Brazil in 1808,
fleeing from Napoleon's armies. Their British allies escorted the
Braganzas, from Portugal to Brazil in November 1807. Now that the
seat of the Portuguese government was in Brazil, many of the old
restrictions on trade and commerce disappeared. Brazil's ports were
opened to British trade and merchants. In 1808, only 90 foreign ships
entered Brazilian harbors but 217did in 1815 and 324 in 1820.
Moreover, manufacturing was encouraged, schools and institutions of
higher education were constructed, and a new army was formed. In
sum, the Crown created many of the kinds of institutions that existed in
Portugal. Inevitably, most of the top posts went to native-born
The British loaned millions to the Crown in 1809. In 1810 Dom
João gave the British trade preferences and allowed them privileges of
extraterritoriality. He also promised to abolish the slave trade, for the
British were now trying to end the trade in Africans. The Braganzas
and the Portuguese immigrants obviously liked Brazil and its major city
Río de Janeiro, for, when the British liberated Portugal in 1811, they
stayed in Brazil. One reason may have been the desire to stay far away
from the European conflicts and easy British meddling. Another was
that they had been making it their home, building expensive houses,
investing money, and enjoying the easy life afforded by the colony. Even
before 1815, when regent João raised Brazil to the status of an equal
kingdom, it was, in effect, the Kingdom of Portugal and Brazil. Crazy
Queen Maria I died in 1816 and her son became João VI. Almost
immediately, in 1817, he faced republican challenges, for Pernambuco
in the northeast led a revolt which included Ceará, Paraíba do Norte,
and Rio Grande do Norte. These northeastern territories deeply
resented the shift of power from themselves to Río and the favoritism
shown to the Portuguese. The Crown crushed the rebellion and brought
loyal troops from Portugal as a countermeasure. João VI fought against
José Artigas of Uruguay in 1816-20 and incorporated that territory into
the empire as the Cisalpine Republic. João VI also faced trouble in
Portugal. In 1820, the Portuguese army revolted against the British
regent, Marshal William Carr Beresford, demanding a constitutional
The Portuguese Côrtes was determined to rule the Empire from
Lisbon and reduce Brazil to the status of a colony again. In January
1821, Portuguese officers and Brazilian liberals overthrew the
governments in Bahía and Belém followed by the support of Río troops
in late February. João was forced the agree that he would accept any
constitution the Côrtes might write. The Côrtes demanded that João
return to Portugal, which he did in April, 1821. João and his court left
for Lisbon where he would fight liberalism. He left his son Pedro as the
prince regent and told him to break with Portugal if necessary to keep
Brazil under the family's control.
In 1820-22, there were two camps in Brazil: (1) those who
favored Portugal, including those hurt by the effects of the Crown
moving to Río and the subsequent changes in the rules of the "game,"
and (2) those who wanted independence. The latter included those who
wanted an absolute monarchy, an independent Braganza prince. These
included the Brazilian titled nobility, displaced officeholders,
ultraconservatives, some merchants, republicans, and some army
officers. The majority of native Brazilians wanted a constitutional
monarchy. These factions would fight each other until 1831. Pedro
effected independence. Told in January, 1822 to return to Lisbon, he
replied "Fico!" (I am staying!). When it was clear that independence
was the only alternative if Brazil was to retain its authority, he declared
independence with the Grito do Ypiranga in September, 1822. He
became, Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil.
A lot of Brazilian stability in the nineteenth century stemmed
from having an emperor and its accouterments. Royalty enjoyed a
special place in people's thinking, a mystique. The monarchy also had
the support of the aristocracy, who tended the run things. There was
almost no fighting in the Brazilian independence movement. However,
for twenty-five years afterwards, there was terrible regionalistic fighting,
especially in the south.
Mexican independence is an interesting history in its own right,
but the problems it faced at independence give us insight into the general
problems faced by Latin American countries when they became free of
Europe. Thus, this chapter ends with an analysis of Mexico at
Mexico: Stages of Independence, 1808-21
New Spain was ruled by the viceroy in Mexico City with the
help of audiencias in Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Guatemala. The
viceroyalty was vast, stretching from the borders of Panama north to
Oregon and including the Floridas, the Philippines and Caribbean
When Napoleon invaded Spain and put his brother Joseph on
the throne, this raised the question of who was the legitimate ruler. Who
should be obeyed when the divine-right monarch is not sitting in his
throne? Who was the rightful leader of the colonies? Should the
colonies obey the agents that Joseph Bonaparte sent to them?
Should New Spain in 1808 renew its loyalty and submission by an oath
of vassalage and obedience to the junta of Seville? The political causes
of the Mexican independence depended upon the acceptance or
rejection of this question.
The audiencia in Mexico City was the unrelenting watchdog of
royal authority and was determined to maintain obedience to the
Regency and the junta of Seville. Viceroy José de Iturrigaray was
cautious and careful, practicing watchful waiting. The audiencia became
suspicious of him when he accepted suggestions from the Mexico City
cabildo and other individuals to call a junta in the viceroyalty. The
cabildo was composed of wealthy creole Spaniards who had no love
for the dominant peninsular Spaniards. The request of the cabildo to
summon a junta was the first step towards independence even though it
was too soon.
Great care had to be taken to make sure that the junta's powers
were limited. There was a real fear that it might become a congress,
which even most creoles feared. Neither junta proponents not its
detractors wanted it to be representative of the population. After all,
they believed that only Spaniards should rule.
From the viewpoint of the audiencia and those who supported
the Seville junta, the cabildo had overstepped its bounds and
endangered authority by going over their heads to seek such a junta. To
them, Iturrigaray had cleared violated his trust by authorizing the
meeting of the junta.
The cabildo pushed the junta idea, for it was trying to establish
itself as equal in importance to the audiencia and as spokesman for
New Spain. Veracruz and Guadalajara were not happy at this attempt
by Mexico City to dominate the viceroyalty. This regionalism would be
a constant problem in Mexican history.
The junta met beginning August 9, 1808 under the presidency
of Iturrigaray but it was short-lived. There was considerable opposition
to it for it was a radical departure from established procedures. Two
commissioners arrived from Spain to observe it. On September 16th,
several hundred Spanish conservatives and their men armed themselves
to end the junta and take Iturrigaray prisoner. Spanish conservatives
were determined to prevent the creoles from achieving self-government
or independence. To do so, they had to lead a revolt against law and
The audiencia installed Pedro Garibay as viceroy, a man who
was old, senile, and easily manipulated. It seemed that they were in
control again. But, on September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla,
a priest, led the second independence movement, this time from the
The independence movement had been kept alive in several
ways. Liberals in Spain had invited colonials to a meeting in Cádiz in
1811 and Mexican creoles went, led by Miguel Ramos Arizpe of
northern Coahuila. These people tended to be moderates. Radicals
discussed ideas about freedom, rights, and independence in literary
societies, salons, and other places.
The Literary and Social Club of Querétaro, which included
Hidalgo, was more radical than most such groups and it became the
spark of the independence movement. It had begun to talk of declaring
independence. Its membership included Hidalgo, Ignacio Allende, Juan
Aldama, and Miguel Domínguez, all leaders of independence. Within its
orbit were other leaders such as José María Morelos, Vicente
Guerrero, and Andrés Quintana Ro.
News leaked about the conspiracy and date of the group and
Father Hidalgo quickly went to the little town of Dolores, rang the
church bells, and called for rebellion with the cry: "Death to the
gachupines! Long live Independence! Long live Our Lady of
Guadalupe!" With his Indian hoard, he headed north, west, and south,
sweeping all before him. By the end of September, he had captured the
city of Guanajuato, slaughtering the Spaniards who had taken refuge in
the granary. The rebels got millions in peso plus other loot. More
joined the movement. He took Toluca but did not attack Mexico City.
Although Hidalgo got some creole and mestizo support, most
creoles sided with the peninsular Spaniards for they feared a race war.
Viceregal armies swung into action and began winning. Guadalajara was
taken; Guanajuato recaptured, and Hidalgo drive into northern Mexico,
where he was captured by the winter of 1810. The Church defrocked
him and the civil authorities tried and executed him. He died in
Chihuahua in July, 1811.
Morelos took over. He was the independence movement from
October, 1810 to October, 1815. He operated primarily in the south.
He had a clear political program and more specific objectives than
Hidalgo. In October, 1811, he entered into a Supreme Junta which
included Vicente Guerrero and Juan Alvarez. The movement, however,
only survived in the hills and mountains.
Sectionalism was a factor in how people looked at
independence. Those in port cities, like Veracruz, favored it because it
would bring more trade. Those concerned with the Mexico
City-Veracruz dominance did not favor independence.
By 1812, the possibility of success looked slim. In October, the
viceroy swore allegiance to the new and liberal constitution of 1812 in
Spain. Constitution promised amnesty to certain political prisoners,
allowed Spaniards liberty of opinion, provided political equality
between peninsular and creole Spaniards, and made the monarch more
representative and limited by sharing theoretical sovereignty with the
people. Moderate Mexicans had come back with written
Ferdinand VII repudiated the constitution in 1814 and the
Mexican moderates living in Spain were jailed. he made it clear that the
decisions would be made in Spain not the colonies.
Morelos in 1814 was offering something different. His group
declared independence in November, 1813. He was offering
In 1814, the first Mexican constitutional congress was called at
Apatzingán, Morelos. The delegates included Andrés Quintana Roo
and Carlos Bustamante. This document called for popular sovereignty,
republican government, abolition of slavery, equality before the law,
representative government, the Roman Catholic Church as the state
religion but no longer state supported, and the abolition of privilege. It
had little effect because Morelos was in flight as the royalist armies
Morelos was captured, defrocked, tried and executed but the
fight continued, on a lesser level, because Vicente Guerrero, Juan
Alvarez, Quintana Roo continued to fight. But the conservative (royalist)
forces had retaken the major regions of Mexico by 1815. It looked as if
the independence movement in Mexico (and elsewhere in Latin
America) was over. From 1815 to 1820, the royalists were winning.
In 1820, a creole officer, Agustín de Iturbide, was given the
command to root out Guerrero in the south but he would bring about
independence instead. Spanish soldiers, about to be sent to the New
World to put down rebellion, revolted and forced the king to adopt the
liberal constitution of 1812. Mexican conservatives were appalled (but
loyal) and swore allegiance to the constitution, even to popular
sovereignty! For Mexican liberals, the decision was to support the
Spanish liberal constitution or the Mexican one. Iturbide figured out
how to bridge the gap.
When Guerrero decided that independence was the better
option and threw in with Iturbide, the latter declared the Plan de Iguala
on February 24, 1821. This plan of Three Guarantees was the basis of
conservatism for much of the 19th century just as the constitution of
Apatzingán was the basis of liberalism. The three guarantees were that
New Spain would be free, sovereign, and independent. The Roman
Catholic Church's supremacy was guaranteed. Mexico would be a
monarchy with a dynasty separate from Spain. Iturbide managed the
unify the older, republican, liberal independence movement with the
newer conservative movement. The clerical and aristocratic elements
now feared liberal Spain than independence.
Iturbide intercepted the viceroy, Juan O'Donohu, sent out from
Spain in 1821 and got him to sign a treaty recognizing Mexican
independence. On September 27, 1821, Iturbide entered the capital as
the man who got independence.
He began the process of creating a new government. He would
remain in charge, for he was ambitious. He had a committee of notables
named as a regency which was to call a constitutional congress. It met
in 1822. Before too much time passed, Iturbide used soldiers to force
the naming of himself as Agustín I, Emperor of Mexico.
The colony's government was legitimate. Many people
believed that God had given the king the right to tell other people what
to do. In addition, it derived its authority from the confidence it
engendered in all classes and races. There was general agreement that
royal government served the public interest. Violent disputes were rare.
Once this legitimacy disappeared, it was difficult to find a substitute.
Iturbide was not legitimate; neither were the first liberal governments.
This new era in Mexican history was started by a military man
making a military pronouncement and forcing his will on the country.
Mexico would be plagued by such men for over a hundred years. All
Iturbide had accomplished was independence. Not resolved were the
issue of what the territorial limits would be, who would rule, whether it
would be a monarchy or a republic, and creation of a sense of
mexicanidad. Those issues were the source of turmoil throughout the
Southern Mexico, that is, Central America, simply fell away.
Once it escaped Mexican imperialistic clutches, it was independent.
Spain was not going to put forth the effort to retake what was, to
Europeans, very valuable property. There were not revolutionary
Wealth of New Spain
New Spain provided two-thirds of the revenue of the Spanish
Empire. In 1799, this was 20 million pesos. Millions were spent for
local administration and defense. Four million went to subsidize other
areas of the viceroyalty in Central and North America, the Caribbean,
and the Philippines. Six million went to Spain. In 1800-10, New Spain
produced 24 million a year. In 1806, it sent 19 million to Spain to help
finance wars in Europe.
The economy was healthy, balanced, and, for the most part,
functionally independent of the mother country. Precious metals
represented 84% of all exports but mining was only a small part of the
economy. In 1800, mining represented 13% of the economy whereas
manufacturing represented 25% and agriculture 62%. The internal
market used 86% of all the production.
Silver mines were engines of economic growth, encouraging the
expansion of agriculture, commerce, and manufacturing. Mexico was
the world's principal supplier of silver in 1780-1819. Mexican silver
miners raised capital locally. For example, Antonio de Obregón of
Guanajuato borrowed two million pesos from merchants in the 1780s to
invest in his mining venture. His mines produced 30.9 million pesos of
silver from 1788 to 1809. In 1791, his mine yielded as much silver as
the entire Viceroyalty of Peru. To understand how much this was, one
has to understand that the per capita income of England, the most
advanced nation in the world, was 196 pesos.
Observers would have thought in 1800 that Mexico would be
the dominant power on the continent instead of the United States. Their
per capita incomes were not so far apart. Mexico was $116, United
States was $165. Mexico had a larger industrial base. The United
States population was 6 million; Mexico was 4 million.
Mexico had some of the largest cities on the continent with Mexico City
having 150,000, Guanajuato 60,000, Querétaro 50,000, Puebla
40,000 and Zacatecas 30,000. By comparison the largest cities in the
United States were New York with 60,000, Philadelphia with 41,000,
and Boston with 25,000. Mexico was more racially mixed and
integrated. Social status was determined more by economic than DNA
factors. Mexico was the older, more educated society with enormous
However, Mexico faced numerous problems. Government
revenue, the independence depression, geographical difficulties, and
economic problems plagued the new nation. The United States did not
suffer comparable problems.
In 1806, the government received 39 million pesos; in 1827,
5.4 million. In the first decade of independence government revenue
averaged 12.2 million pesos. Of the 1.33 million collected in 1821, forty
percent came from extraordinary revenues such as loans and eighty
percent went to the military. For the British loan of 1822-23, Mexico
assumed an indebtedness of 16 million pesos at 5% interest, but the
treasury only received 5.5 million pesos in disposable money. Then it
validated internal debts totaling 45 million and authorized a new foreign
loan of 16 million. It set aside 4 million to reduce the first debt. One
estimate is that in the first seven months of 1825, the government could
expect a revenue of 9 million pesos but an expenditure of 21 million, of
which 16 million would go to the army and 3 million to the navy. For
fifty years after independence, customs duties were the principal source
of income, producing 80-90% of normal revenues. The upper class was
avoiding taxation. Governments survived by borrowing. In 1850, the
foreign debt was 56 million pesos and the domestic debt was 61 million.
By 1867, the foreign debt had reached 375 million pesos and the
domestic debt 79 million.
Post-Independence Economic Depression
Mineral production fell from an average of 25 million pesos to a
low of 6.5 million in 1819 and averaged 11 million for the next four
decades. Production in 1801-1810 was 5.5 million pesos whereas it
was 2.6 million pesos in 1821. Exports fell from 20 million pesos in
1800 to 5 million in 1825. Per capita income fell from 116 pesos in
1800 to 56 pesos in 1845. Guanajuato mines had 2,000 miners
working from daylight to dusk, six days a week, pulverizing ore in 1810
but only 168 in 1821. The Valenciana mine employed 22,000 people in
1810 but only 4,000 after independence.
Geography played a role for the new United States was blessed
whereas Mexico was not. The land is poor and harsh in most of the
country. It has limited natural resources. There are considerable natural
obstacles to national development and integration. Climate variations
pose a serious threat to people and crops. The northern one-third of the
country is a desert while rain forest cover large areas of the south. Fifty
percent of Mexico suffers from a perpetual scarcity of water. Only 13%
enjoys sufficient rainfall to sustain crops without irrigation. Less than
10% of the land is arable without extensive irrigation. Even today, only
about15% of the land is arable, an amount equal to the arable land of
the state of Kansas. The topography is formidable as well. Two-thirds
of the country is mountainous and there are lots of gorges. Volcanoes
and earthquakes occur in some parts.
The wars brought the destruction of farms, livestock, mining
equipment, mines, and buildings. The destruction of the mines affected
the ancillary enterprises. Mine owners had difficulty obtaining the
necessary mercury from Spain and Austria in order to process silver.
There was a massive loss of capital because it was destroyed, fled the
country, and withdrawn from circulation. The nation lacked banking
institutions, relying, instead on personal loans or the Church. Europe
flooded the country with textiles in the 1920s, thus undercutting the
Mexican textile industry.
Mexico entered a period of turmoil without an effective national
government until Porfirio Díaz established one in the 1880s and 1890s
by force and guile. Even so, it would not be until after the Mexican
Revolution that the people could enjoy governmental predictability.
Government in General
Independence leaders had to promise things to people to get
things done, to fight the wars and gain support. Independence leaders
promised free press, the removal of economic restrictions, the
emancipation of the slaves, changes in the status of Indians, and a free
assembly. Leaders began making them. in 1810. They had to do some
of these things because they could not just make promises for twenty
In the constitutions they created there clearly was foreign
influence such as the constitution of the United States but influences
came from many sources.
Government finance and economic policy in the Independence
period is a subject that needs more study. The policies varied from
place to place, not surprisingly, but there was not much policy aimed at
In finance, there was the shift from the very complex colonial
system to dependence upon taxes from foreign commerce. Most
commonly there were customs duties or tariffs on imports. The many
sources. The upper class has avoided taxes which would hurt its
position. The effects of such a policy has been the inability of a
government to count on the amount of income it would have because
trade activity fluctuates according to many different factors.
Governments resorted to special levies, which were always unpopular.
They borrowed monies from abroad, making loans on very poor terms
which got poorer as country after country defaulted. Sometimes they
did not understand the loan obligations. Many wasted much of the
money when they got it into their countries.
These countries faced the problem of diplomatic recognition.
Without it, it was difficult to get commercial treaties. Recognition also
helped discourage Spain from reconquest attempts. Some recognized
each other. Outside of Latin America, the United States led off in 1822,
followed by the United Kingdom.
Bolívar's Pan-American conference in 1826 was an important
diplomatic event because it created an interest in mutual affairs.
Boundaries were handled quite well because the new nations
accepted Usi Possidetis (right to keep because of use), for the most
part. The boundaries were roughed out in general and tended to pass
through uninhabited territory.
Improvement in economic conditions had occurred in many
places but prosperity was smashed by the wars of independence. The ill
effects were worse where the fighting took place. Venezuela, for
example, suffered a fifty percent decline in cattle between 1810-1830.
The wars caused some interruptions in trade patterns, trade routes, and
communications. There was a serious problem with inflation.
Nevertheless, there was some expansion of markets. There was some
penetration by European entrepreneurs. Independence saw the
beginning of the great influence of Great Britain in Latin American
One of the most striking changes was the opening of the area to
international trade. The British had interfered with the Spanish empire,
aiding people such as Miranda, because it wanted markets for its
citizens. Britain was the dominant economic power in the Latin America
throughout the nineteenth century. With trade came non-Spanish ideas
and practices, mostly affecting ports.
The independence movements brought reforms from 1810 to
1830. The Inquisition was abolished but little else was done to hurt
ecclesiastical power. The Jesuits were allowed to return.
Independence worsened the condition of the Indians. Debt
peonage and the company store were not abolished, leaving these
people as almost slaves. The imperial protective system was destroyed
and the Indians delivered into the hands of their exploiters. Mestizos
and other Indians exploited the Amerinds as much as the creoles. The
Indian missions were destroyed. Indian tribute was abolished, however,
removing one burden.
Remarkably, the period saw the abolition or serious
undermining of slavery. Part of this emanated from the influence of
Enlightenment thought on the liberators. Part of it was the result of
having to make promises of freedom to get slaves to fight. Slavery
persisted in some former colonies after this period but not for long.
The legal system changed some. Gone were all the laws
pertaining to titled aristocracy. The judicial system was restricted to
justice. Most places saw the extinction or reduction of guild rights and,
quite often, guilds. There was the withdrawal of legal support for social
stratification in some places.
The new countries encouraged immigration. There was never
the great influx of people as seen in Argentina in the latter nineteenth
century but some people did go. That the new nations would overcome
Spanish xenophobia at all and allow immigrants was noteworthy.
The new nations abandoned many of the administrative
practices such as spying and overlapping jurisdictions which were
characteristic of the colonial period. The role of cabildo changed for the
centralizing tendencies of the new rulers meant it was allowed to do less
or it lacked revenue as the new governments tried to scoff up everything
they could find.
Anti-clericalism began in earnest. The break with Spain should
mean the separation of Church and State to many, for they wanted to
reject the colonial past when the Church was virtually an arm of the
state. Conservatives, however, wanted to keep the colonial
arrangement, believing that it fostered social stability. So the battle was
One of the most significant and foreboding changes was the
emergence of new armies emerged with enlarged powers. They would
dominate their respective countries, demanding an inordinate amount of
resources and taking what they wanted. They provided social mobility
for men with intelligence and the right glandular balance but they
became a scourge on society.
The rift between the city and the country worsened. Usually, it
was the capital city versus everything place else. The new leaders
concentrated power into the hands of urbanites. City dwellers were the
ones who had contact with foreigners and displayed lots of European
All the promises to the lower classes caused trouble later
because the new elites had no desire to fulfill them.
The Colonial Legacy
The class system persisted well into the twentieth century; some
would say the twenty-first century. One way to understand the social
system is to call it the aristocratic dispensation, that is, the belief and
practice that the elites could do anything they desired. Everyone else
was to defer to their wishes. Those who managed to get into the upper
class from even lowly origins immediately aped the other elites.
There was social immobility. One almost always stayed in the
class to which one was born and did not expect to change. Life was
what it was. There was apathy and indifference among almost all people
because they were excluded from making decision-making.
The tax and educational systems favored the elites. Taxes
tended to be on transactions not property or income. In the twentieth
century, this changed in may countries but the bias was still there.
Conservatives objected to innovation, for it threatened the
social and political order. Although people who do not know the region
often think it revolutionary, Latin America is one of the most
conservative regions of the world.
The use of violence in public affairs persisted. It worked. And
there were few or no countervailing forces.
Men and women continued to have sexual intercourse and have
babies regardless of ethnicity, DNA patterns, or “race.” Mestizos
became the predominant element in those countries where large
numbers of Amerinds had been living at the time of the Conquest. In
Argentina, the African population was genetically absorbed by the
European population. There is some basis to the argument that Latin
American were less racist than some other peoples in the world.
The great estate system persisted. It existed in most countries
well into the twentieth century. In Mexico, it was diminished some by
the Reforma, recovered between 1876 and 1910, and then was slowly
Economic underdevelopment continued to be a problem.
Argentina in 1900 appeared to have escaped it but fell behind in 1950s.
Brazil and Mexico developed very large economies by world standards
but population increases and economic growth elsewhere kept them
undeveloped in relative terms.
Graft and inefficiency in bureaucracies was endemic and
remained so. Paying bribes was routine if one wanted to accomplish
anything. Public employees were paid little, giving them ample incentive
to accept “tips” for doing work. Under such circumstances, recruitment
of efficient workers was almost luck. The bureaucracy remained a
means of paying political and familial debts, so it was increased in size.
Latin America is a stronghold of family ties, of true "family
values." Family members, even cousins, can expect help when they call
upon relatives for help. Much of social life is organized around the
The Roman Catholic church continues to be dominant even
though there are pockets of Protestantism. Its beliefs and values
permeate the various national cultures. It was one of the few colonial
institutions to survive.
The hold of European culture on the area was strengthened and
consolidated. Indian culture continued to diminish over time or became
intermixed with European modalities. African culture, important in Brazil
and Cuba, likewise was diluted by European culture.
Events in the 19th and 20th centuries changed some of these
effects, naturally, but much of the colonial past remains. Some scholars
argue that Latin America is still “colonial” in the 21st century but that is
going too far. No society is ever free of its past and parts of Latin
America are more bound to the past than others but Latin America
today is a vibrant, fascinating region.
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Austria · 30, 109, 212
Azores · 33, 35
A Aztecs · v, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 39, 42, 44,
45, 46, 47, 48, 225, 226
Adelantado · 51, 59, 79
Africa · iv, v, viii, 2, 3, 20, 22, 30, 32,
33, 41, 42, 43, 119, 122, 123, 151, B
152, 154, 155, 176, 192, 196, 201,
217, 218, 229, 232 Balboa, Vasco Nuñez de · 36, 37, 50
African · 2, 41, 151, 154 Banda Oriental · 99, 186, 198
Aguilar · 44 bandeirantes · 157
Aguirre · 61, 70 Bering Straits · viii, 2
alcabala · 87 Bolívar, Simón · 175, 184, 185, 187,
Allende, Ignacio · 205 189, 191, 194, 195, 196, 214, 223
Almagro, Diego de · 36, 38, 50, 51, 54, Bolivia · 3, 15, 58, 107, 165, 194, 195,
55, 58, 60 229
almajarifazo · 87 Bourbon dynasty · 99, 100, 101, 109,
Alvarado, Pedro de · 47, 48, 49, 50, 54, 117, 124, 162, 165, 166, 193, 223,
62 225, 226, 228, 230
Alvarez, Juan · 206, 207 Braganzas · 159, 200, 201
Amerinds · viii, 2, 3, 2, 3, 35, 38, 39, Brazil · iv, vii, 3, 33, 76, 98, 99, 123,
40, 42, 44, 45, 49, 50, 51, 52, 57, 151, 152, 153, 154, 155, 156, 157,
58, 59, 92, 116, 215, 217 158, 159, 160, 161, 177, 186, 198,
Andes · 2, 15, 41, 185, 187, 199, 224 200, 201, 202, 218, 220, 221, 222,
Angostura Conference · 194 227, 230, 231, 232
Aragón · 24, 25, 33, 177 Buenos Aires · 80, 99, 101, 114, 116,
Araucanian Indians · 54 150, 157, 176, 177, 186, 187, 193,
Arawaks · 4 196, 197, 198, 233
Argentina · 58, 107, 116, 165, 169, 186,
193, 197, 198, 215, 217, 218, 225
Aristocratic dispensation · 96 C
Armada · 98
Asia · viii, 33, 41, 152 Cabeza de Vaca, Alvar Nuñez · 50
Atahualpa · 16, 52, 54 cabildo · 55, 59, 76, 82, 83, 84, 85, 88,
Atzcapotzalco · 10, 11 102, 164, 176, 194, 204, 216
audiencia · 55, 59, 60, 80, 81, 88, 93, Cabral, Pedro Alvares · 33, 152
94, 164, 165, 168, 203, 204, 205 Caciques · 76, 121
Cádiz · 77, 113, 179, 185, 205 122, 146, 153
Cajamarca · 52, 54 Church · 19, 26, 65, 67, 71, 74, 92, 96,
California · 48, 49, 56, 57, 98, 220, 222, 106, 124, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150,
223, 224, 225, 230, 231, 232, 233 153, 196, 199, 206, 207, 208, 212,
calpulli · 13 216, 224
Campomanes, José María · 169, 171 Cochrane. Thomas, Lord · 175, 187
Canada · viii, 2 coffee · 84, 106
cannibalism · 14, 47 Colombia · 15, 36, 57, 58, 111, 170,
capitanías · 153 173, 174, 180, 183, 185, 193, 194,
Captain General · 184 230, 233
Carabobo · 185, 189 Colonia do Sacramento · 99, 100
Caribs · 4 Columbus · 6, 35, 43
Carrera, José Miguel de · 199 comunero · 29, 88, 172
Cartegena · 57, 100 Confradía · 90
Casa · 35, 40, 42, 71, 72, 77, 78, 79, Conquest · vii, 3, 4, 17, 21, 27, 35, 38,
164, 166, 226, 229 40, 43, 50, 56, 79, 105, 217, 223,
Casa de Contratación · 77, 164, 166 226, 229, 231, 234
castas · 112, 120, 124 conquistadores · 28, 40, 47, 48, 60, 64,
Castile · 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 33, 44, 75, 105
67, 90, 93, 177 Consejo de Estado · 31
cattle · 58, 105, 107, 169, 214 consulado · 77, 113, 115, 166
cédula · 92 Córdoba, , Francisco Hernández de · 43
Central America · 58, 100, 183, 209, corn · 4, 3, 41, 66
230 Coronado, Francisco de · 36
Charles I · 23, 30, 95, 162, 163, 164, corregidores · 24, 59, 88, 121, 168
165, 166, 177, 178 Cortés · 18, 24, 25, 47, 179, 180, 181,
Charles III · 117 199, 223
Charles V · 23, 30 Cortez, Hernán · 11, 41, 42, 44, 45, 46,
Chiapas · 72 47, 48, 49, 50, 60
Chibcha · 15 cotton · 59, 111, 127, 158, 234
Chichén Itzá · 44 Council of the Indies · 78, 149, 164
Chichén Viejo · 44 Cozumel · 44
chichimeca · 9, 10, 48, 108 creole · 100, 101, 102, 103, 113, 164,
Chile · 3, 54, 55, 58, 80, 110, 123, 145, 171, 184, 194, 195, 197, 199, 204,
165, 187, 188, 198, 199 205, 206, 207, 215
China · 127 criollo · 74, 76, 83, 86, 100, 124, 147,
Christianity · 18, 21, 26, 31, 32, 33, 52, 164, 166, 169, 170, 171, 173, 174,
175, 179, 184, 186 Ecuador · 51, 58, 183, 185, 194
Crown · 19, 24, 25, 26, 27, 29, 30, 35, education · 31, 76, 146, 148, 149, 180,
36, 37, 40, 45, 49, 55, 59, 60, 61, 199, 201, 217
71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 78, 79, 80, 81, Elizabeth I · 32
85, 87, 88, 89, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, encomienda · 44, 60, 72, 79, 91, 94,
96, 97, 99, 104, 105, 106, 107, 109, 109, 121, 122
111, 112, 116, 121, 122, 123, 124, England · 21, 22, 23, 32, 42, 100, 126,
146, 148, 149, 152, 153, 154, 155, 149, 175, 184, 210
156, 158, 164, 165, 166, 170, 171, Española · 35, 36, 71
173, 175, 176, 178, 188, 201, 202 Espejo, Francisco Javier Eugenio de
Cuauhtémoc · 47, 48 Santa Cruz · 174
Cuba · 35, 38, 43, 44, 47, 51, 56, 105, Europe · v, vii, viii, 2, 3, 2, 3, 7, 13, 17,
106, 110, 165, 169, 218 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 28, 30, 35,
Cuzco · 15, 16, 53, 55, 59, 185 38, 39, 41, 42, 43, 45, 49, 50, 56,
76, 80, 82, 91, 97, 98, 99, 100, 103,
107, 115, 123, 124, 138, 146, 151,
D 152, 153, 154, 155, 159, 175, 181,
186, 187, 188, 189, 193, 196, 201,
Darién · 36, 37, 56 203, 209, 212, 214, 216, 217, 218,
Dávila, Pedrarias · 36 220, 228, 231, 233
de Luque, Hernando · 51
de Soto, Hernndo · 36, 50, 52
Dessalines, Jean Jacques · 192 F
Díaz, Bernal · 40, 212
diphtheria · 43 Ferdinand of Aragón · 33
disease · v, 3, 38, 40, 41, 42, 48, 52, 53, Ferdinand VI · 162, 177, 178, 179, 181,
104, 109, 120, 151, 192 194, 206
Dominican · 35, 71, 147 Ferdinand VII · 162, 177, 178, 179,
donátorios · 153 181, 194, 206
Drake, Sir Francis · 98 fishing · 66, 110
Dutch · 98, 115, 156, 222, 231 flota · 78, 98, 115, 165
France · 32, 100, 101, 103, 149, 162,
177, 187, 192
E Francia, Dr. Gaspar Rodríguez · 186,
Economy · 103, 159, 200, 214, 220, Francisco Solano López · 198
221, 223, 226, 227, 230, 231 French Revolution · 170, 171, 176
Gaceta de Guatemala · 171 immigration · v, viii, 215
Garibay, Pedro · 205 Imperial Crisis · 175
Godoy, Manuel · 162, 177, 178 Inconfidência Mineira · 200
gold · 27, 36, 44, 47, 52, 58, 75, 96, influenza · 42
108, 112, 140, 150, 156, 157, 222, Inquisition · 26, 92, 146, 147, 149, 170,
227 181, 215
governor · 36, 43, 45, 51, 59, 60, 62, 64, Intendant · 81, 164, 230
68, 102, 133, 134, 153, 168, 173 intermarriage · 48, 136
Gran Colombia · 193, 194 Isabela of Castile · 33
Greece · 6 Italy · 17, 25, 30
gremio · 90, 112, 113 Iturbide, Agustín de · 207, 208
Grijalva, Juan de · 44 Iturrigaray, José de · 204
Grito do Ypiranga · 202
Guadalajara · 57, 203, 204, 206
Guatemala · 2, 3, 7, 11, 42, 49, 50, 54, J
57, 80, 125, 133, 150, 171, 203, 234
Guerrero, Vicente · 205, 206, 207 Jalisco · 60
Jews · 20, 26, 33, 147
Jiménez de Cisneros, Francisco · 18, 25,
João VI · 200, 201
Hacienda · 42, 94, 104, 221, 222, 223, Jovellanos, Gaspar de · 169, 171, 179
229 Juana la Loca · 28
Haiti · 176, 185, 191, 192 Junta Centrativa · 179
Hapsburg · 28, 31, 93, 97, 98, 99, 227
hidalgo · 29, 30, 70, 145
Hidalgo y Costilla, Miguel · 205 L
Hieronymite friars · 71
Hispaniola · 36, 42, 44, 56 La Noche Triste · 42, 47
Holy Roman Empire · 23, 29, 30, 31 Lake Texcoco · 10
Honduras · 6, 35, 48 land tenure · 105
Huascar · 16, 52, 54 Las Casas, Bartolomé de · 71
Huayna Capac · 16 LaSalle, Sieur de · 57, 98
human sacrifice · 9, 12, 14, 47 Latin America · iv, v, vi, 2, 3, 2, 4, 91,
93, 98, 107, 183, 184, 188, 190,
203, 207, 214, 215, 217, 218, 219, mestizo · iv, 91, 102, 119, 122, 148,
220, 221, 222, 223, 226, 227, 228, 151, 173, 175, 190, 206
229, 230, 232, 233, 234 Mexica · 7, 9, 10, 11
letrados · 24, 93 Mexico · iv, v, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 41,
Lima · 53, 54, 59, 67, 88, 113, 135, 147, 42, 43, 48, 49, 50, 55, 56, 57, 59,
149, 164, 199 60, 72, 77, 88, 98, 107, 108, 110,
Lisbon · 35, 159, 202 112, 113, 115, 116, 120, 145, 147,
Literary and Social Club of Querétaro · 148, 149, 164, 181, 183, 193, 203,
205 204, 206, 207, 208, 209, 210, 211,
López de Ayala, Juan · 70 212, 218, 220, 221, 222, 223, 224,
López, Carlos A. · 198 225, 226, 227, 228, 229, 231, 232,
López, Francisco Solano 233
L'Ouverture, Toussaint · 192, 228 Michoacán · 60
Militarists · 7
militia · 75, 99, 100, 166, 168, 175, 189,
mines · 58, 59, 87, 107, 108, 109, 116,
Magellan, Ferdinand · 35, 227 121, 209, 211, 212
Maguey · 106 Miranda, Francisco · 101, 174, 184, 215
Maipú, Battle of · 187, 188, 199 missions · 94, 97, 101, 147, 215
maize · 6, 41, 106, 130 Moctezuma · 42, 44, 45, 46, 47
malaria · 43 Moreno, Mariano · 197
Manoc Capac · 53 Moslems · 20, 21, 26, 27
Manoel I · 33, 34 mules · 59, 107, 116, 126, 137
manufacturing · 103, 111, 112, 201, 209 muleteers · 106, 116
Marina · 44, 48
Mary, Queen of Scots · 32
Maya · 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 15, 43, 44, N
224, 226, 234
mayorazgo · 124 Nahuatl · 7, 12, 44
Measles · 42 Napoleon · 101, 159, 175, 176, 177,
Mendoza, Antonio · 55, 60, 220 178, 181, 188, 192, 200, 203
mercantilism · 75, 92, 98 Nariño, Antonio · 174, 185
merchants · 19, 77, 107, 110, 200, 202, Narváez, Panfilo de · 42, 47, 50
209 national dynastic state · 74
Mercurio Peruano · 171 nationalism · 2, 193, 197, 207
Mesta · 27, 30 Native Americans · v
Negroes · 82, 99, 119, 120, 122, 123, 107, 114, 116, 165, 183, 203
135 Paraguay · 73, 99, 102, 165, 172, 186,
Netherlands · 30 198
Netzahualcoyotl (Hungry Coyote)· 11 patronado real · 25
New Granada · 80, 101, 147, 165, 169, Paulistas · 99, 157
183, 185, 194, 196, 226 Pedro I · 202
New Laws · 72 peninsulares · 74, 94, 100, 101, 102,
New Spain · 40, 57, 60, 73, 80, 98, 100, 103, 124, 174
101, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, Peru · 3, 15, 38, 42, 50, 51, 53, 54, 55,
111, 113, 114, 119, 120, 121, 122, 56, 58, 60, 61, 62, 66, 68, 77, 80,
124, 145, 146, 147, 165, 183, 203, 100, 107, 108, 109, 111, 112, 116,
204, 208, 209, 222, 226, 228, 231 117, 121, 136, 145, 146, 148, 164,
New York · viii, 210, 220, 221, 222, 171, 172, 186, 187, 194, 210, 221,
223, 224, 225, 226, 227, 228, 229, 222, 223, 224, 225, 226, 228, 234
230, 231, 232, 233, 234 Philip I · 23, 28, 31, 95, 145, 156, 162,
Nicaragua · 52, 107 225
nobility · 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 27, Philip II · 23, 31, 95, 156, 162, 225
29, 33, 124, 136, 180, 197, 202 Philip V · 162
North Carolina · viii, 234 Philippines · 30, 98, 171, 178, 203, 209
Nuño de Guzmán, Gonzalo · 60 Pizarro, Francisco · 15, 16, 38, 42, 50,
51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 58, 60
pochteca · 13
O Ponce de León, Juan · 50
population · 3, 6, 7, 15, 38, 40, 41, 42,
Oaxaca · 49, 57, 223, 234 49, 52, 54, 58, 80, 97, 101, 102,
obrajes · 112 104, 105, 109, 120, 122, 125, 151,
O'Donohu, Juan · 208 152, 154, 165, 169, 171, 175, 190,
oficiales reales · 87, 164 204, 210, 217, 218
O'Higgins, Bernardo · 199 Portales, Diego · 199
oidor · 80, 81, 94 Portugal · 17, 20, 21, 22, 31, 32, 33, 82,
Ojeda expedition · 50 99, 103, 152, 153, 154, 156, 157,
158, 160, 177, 200, 201, 202, 220,
P Potosí mine · 108
precious metal · 49, 56, 58, 75, 151
Páez, José Antonio · 185, 189, 195 presidio · 49, 82
Panama · 35, 36, 38, 50, 51, 52, 55, 56, Puebla · 46, 57, 59, 210, 234
Puerto Rico · 4, 56 Sevilla · 36, 77, 113, 114, 164, 178, 231
sheep · 27, 30
Sicily · 25
Q silver · 27, 58, 75, 96, 98, 108, 109,
110, 112, 113, 140, 209, 212
Quetzalcoatl · 7, 9, 46 Sinaloa · 60
Quintana Roo, Andrés · 205 slavery · 14, 107, 124, 151, 154, 159,
Quito · 16, 54, 138, 174, 221, 224, 230, 191, 197, 207, 215
231 smallpox · 3, 42
smuggling · 98, 149, 166, 174
Sociedades Económicas del Amigos del
R País · 170
Socorro · 102, 173, 180
Ramos Arizpe, Miguel · 205 Spain · v, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25,
reconquest · 20, 214 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 38, 40,
Recopilación de las leyes de las Indias · 48, 51, 53, 54, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60,
90, 92 61, 62, 63, 64, 66, 67, 69, 71, 72,
reducciones · 99 73, 74, 75, 79, 80, 82, 85, 86, 88,
Regency · 179, 180, 204 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 96, 97, 98, 99,
registros · 114 100, 101, 102, 103, 105, 106, 107,
requerimiento · 37, 42 108, 109, 110, 111, 113, 114, 115,
residencia · 79 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 124, 127,
Río de la Plata · 80, 111, 157, 183 132, 136, 145, 146, 147, 148, 150,
Rome · 17, 64, 67 156, 157, 160, 162, 163, 165, 167,
Rosas, Juan Manuel· 197 168, 169, 170, 174, 175, 176, 177,
178, 179, 180, 181, 183, 185, 186,
187, 194, 197, 203, 204, 205, 206,
S 208, 209, 212, 214, 216, 222, 225,
226, 227, 228, 230, 231, 232, 233
San Luis Potosí · 57, 108, 222 Sucre, Antonio José de · 185, 195
San Martín, José de · 184, 186, 187, sugar · 59, 98, 106, 112, 132, 152, 155,
199 156, 191, 192
Santander, Francisco · 194
Santo Domingo · 59, 101, 105, 148, 175
Saõ Paulo · 99 T
Sardinia · 25
Sebastião · 33 Tabasco · 44
Tarascan · 10, 14 164, 165, 168, 176, 197, 203, 204,
Tenochtitlán · 10, 42, 46, 47, 48, 57, 205, 206, 208, 209
225 visita · 81, 85, 164, 173
Texas · 49, 57, 222, 223, 225, 228, 229 von Humboldt, Alexander · 104, 121
Texcoco · 10, 11, 46
timber · 22, 106
Tiradentes · 200 W
Tlatelolco · 10, 11, 13
tobacco · 59, 106, 112, 132 War of Jenkins’ Ear · 100
Toledo, Francisco · 55, 60, 109, 234 War of the Austrian Succession · 100
Toltec · 3, 4, 7, 9, 10, 13, 225 War of the Roses · 22
towns · 4, 3, 19, 24, 29, 46, 55, 59, 61, War of the Spanish Succession · 162
69, 82, 84, 95, 104, 105, 108, 118, Western Hemisphere · v, viii, 2, 3, 155
123, 126, 131, 133, 172, 173 women · 14, 33, 36, 48, 53, 66, 91, 117,
trepanning · 16 119, 121, 122, 123, 127, 140, 148,
tribute · 4, 9, 11, 13, 14, 49, 60, 81, 87, 152, 154, 191, 217
94, 107, 115, 118, 121, 171, 172,
174, 179, 215, 227
Tula · 8, 9, 10, 225 Y
Túmbez · 51, 52
typhus · 3 yellow fever · 43
Yucatán · 6, 7, 14, 43, 44, 49, 57, 122,
Valdivia, Pedro de · 54 Z
vecino · 82, 85, 196
Velásquez, Diego de · 43, 44, 45, 47, Zacatecas · 57, 108, 210, 221
49, 105 zambo · 122, 123, 173
viceroy · 32, 50, 55, 60, 61, 62, 80, 81, Zumárraga, Juan de · 60, 147
94, 96, 99, 107, 112, 124, 153, 158,